Stefan Askenase (piano)
Piano Recitals in Germany
MELOCLASSIC MC1051 [2 CDs: 157:30]
Back in 2005, Deutsche Grammophon released a 7CD box devoted to the Polish pianist Stefan Askenase (1896-1985) featuring his complete 1950s Chopin recordings. It was my initial introduction to this pianist. The beauty of this new release from Meloclassic is that it includes Chopin’s Op 10 ╔tudes, not part of his DG discography, and other newcomers by way of Soler, Schumann and Ravel.
His pedigree was notable. He’d studied in Vienna with Emil von Sauer, a pupil of Franz Liszt. In addition to performing in almost all European countries, North America and Africa, he held teaching posts in Cairo from 1922 to 1925 and, from 1927 for the next forty years, in Brussels as a professor at the Conservatoire royal. His pupils included Martha Argerich, Mitsuko Uchida and AndrÚ Tchaikowsky, the latter he described in a letter to violinist Henri Temianka in 1957 as “the greatest talent I have ever met”.
CD 1 opens with Chopin’s Op 10 ╔tudes. No 1’s extended arpeggio study doesn’t flow easily and is marred by untidiness and a few scrambles. No 3 is elegant and refined and not over-sentimentalized. I particularly like No 5 the ‘Black Key’ ╔tude for its litheness, fluidity and wit. The same qualities can be found in No 8. By contrast, Op 10 No 6 in E-flat minor is sombre and nocturnal. The cycle is unfortunately rounded off with a rather tired-sounding 'Revolutionary'.
I much prefer Askenase in the Nocturne selection and, throughout, he takes great care not to over-prettify them. No 1 in B-flat minor, Op 9 No 1 has a beautifully sculpted cantabile line, keeping rubato sensitively in check. The outer sections of Op 9 No 3 are dreamy and poignant, with the pianist relishing the animated central section. Op 15 No 1 is similarly cast, with poetic outer sections and, this time, a stormy middle section. The G minor, Op 37 No 1 is wistful and nostalgic, as is Op 48 No 2 in F-sharp minor.
Schumann’s Kreisleriana is a high point for me in the set. Askenase has great affinity for this work, and impressive technical command to realize his vision. The opening piece ─u▀erst bewegt has passionate intensity. You’ll be drawn in by the introspection and intimacy of Sehr langsam. This is followed by Sehr lebhaft, invested with quirky humour, whilst Sehr rasch sounds almost demonic.
Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales have never been pieces that particularly float my boat. Nevertheless, Askenase delivers characterful performances with plenty of atmosphere and rhythmic charge. They were something of a Rubinstein specialty, and I think he commands a wider colouristic range than Askenase, which this music begs for. Antonio Soler’s sonatas brim over with joy, and are adventurousness and surprising at every turn. Askenase’s expressive playing and buoyant rhythms do them full justice and leave you wishing he’d recorded more of them.
These radio recordings span the early 1950s to the late 1960s and sound quality, which is perfectly acceptable, is consistent throughout. They make the perfect adjunct to the DG Original Masters set.
CD 1 [78:05]
12 ╔tudes, Op 10
Recorded ∙ 01 December 1959 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Studio 3 ∙ HR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
Nocturne in B-flat minor, Op 9, No 1
Nocturne in E-flat major, Op 9, No 2
Nocturne in B major, Op 9, No 3
Nocturne in F major, Op 15, No 1
Nocturne in G minor, Op 15, No 3
Nocturne in B major, Op 32, No 1
Nocturne in A-flat
major, Op 32, No 2
Nocturne in G minor, Op 37, No 1
Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op 48, No 2
Recorded ∙ 02 February 1962 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
CD 2 [79:25]
Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op 44
Recorded ∙ 26 April 1952 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Funkhaus ∙ HR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
Waltz in D-flat major, Op 64, No 1
Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op 64, No 2
Waltz in A-flat major, Op 34, No 1
Kreisleriana, Op 16
Recorded ∙ 09 September 1955 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
Valses nobles et sentimentales, M 61
Piano Sonata in F-sharp major, R 90
Piano Sonata in C-sharp minor, R 21
Recorded ∙ 05 May 1968 ∙ Berlin ∙ Funkhaus Nalepastra▀e ∙ Radio GDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording