Cécile Genhart (piano)
The Recording Legacy of Artist-Teacher - The Existing Piano Recordings
THE AMERICAN MATTHAY ASSOCIATION FOR PIANO [3 CDs: 200:57]
This 3 CD set of the recorded legacy of concert performer and pedagogue Cécile Genhart was released under the auspices of The American Matthay Association for Piano. It’s most welcome, as the pianist never made any commercial recordings. All we have are some live recordings set down between 1936 and 1961, which have been lovingly restored by restoration engineer Seth B. Winner.
I have to admit that until I stumbled upon her name recently whilst browsing the internet, I’d never encountered her. She was born in 1898 in Basel Switzerland “one year and a few days before the twentieth century began, so that I can say in truth that I am a nineteenth-century musician”. Her father was Gottfried Staub, a professor of piano at the Basel Conservatory. When she was fifteen she entered the Zurich Conservatoire, and later progressed to the Munich Royal Academy. She had the good fortune to study with several notable teachers, including Philipp Jarnach, Ferruccio Busoni, Eugen d’Albert, Josef Pembauer and Edwin Fisher. For her Berlin debut she performed Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto and Brahms’ Second, leading one critic to speak of her “obvious musicality, interpretive individuality and enormous technical facility”. She continued to give concerts throughout Germany, before returning to Zurich. It was there that she met Hermann Genhart, a student of her father. Eventually the two married, and this was to significantly change the direction of her life. Hermann was invited to join the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in 1924, with Cécile joining the faculty two years later. In 1929 she took some time out to study the working methods of Tobias Matthay, and the experience was to greatly influence her own musical thought and teaching. Cécile Genhart spent forty-five years teaching at the Eastman School of Music, establishing a formidable reputation as a pedagogue. She died in 1983.
There are two recitals on CD 1, recorded in 1941 and 1943 in the Kilbourne Hall at the Eastman School of Music. We open with an over-the-top arrangement by Michael Zadora of Chopin’s Minute Waltz; Genhart overcomes its florid twists and turns with consummate ease. Two of the composer’s études follow. Op. 10, No. 7 has more surface noise than No. 5 Black key, which is lithe and supple. It’s regrettable that we only have the opening movement of the B minor Sonata, Op. 58. The dramatic moments are addressed with flair and zeal, with the second subject poetically rendered. The Scarlatti Sonata, K96 reveals some dazzling pianism and biting rhythmic energy. Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 119, No. 3 is witty and capricious. In December 1944 she dedicated a recital to contemporary composers, who she knew personally. These include works by William Bergsma, Ernest, Bloch, Kent Kennan and Burrill Phillips. There’s an annoying interruption, which comes five times (tracks 13, 15, 17, 20 and 22) during the performance of these works: “This recording is to be used for study purposes only and is not to be used for broadcasting”. Apparently it was a temporary requirement at the time, which Seth B. Winner explains in detail in his liner contribution. In Walter Piston’s Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra, Genhard is accompanied by the Rochester Philharmonic under the direction of Howard Hanson. It’s a single movement work lasting nearly thirteen minutes, whose overall structure is that of a traditional three-movement concerto. After an ebullient opening, there’s a central slow section which is tranquil and wistful. This leads into a sparkling a spiky final section. It’s a delightful score.
On February 3 1961, Cécile Genhart gave her last solo recital and, once again, the venue was the Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music. The recital opens with a monumentally nicely paced performance of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne. Despite some mishaps, Genhart captures the nobility and grandeur of the work, contrasting declamatory moments with poetic ones. There’s a steady build up of cumulative power throughout. Beethoven’s two-movement Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78, nicknamed ‘à Thérèse’ in honour of Countess Thérèse von Brunswick, follows. The first movement is charming, affectionate and lyrical, with the second movement fleet and frolicsome. Quite why Genhart omitted pieces 9 and 10 in Schumann’s Kinderszenen remains a mystery. Nevertheless, the performance has a disarming simplicity and enchants. Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 for solo piano were composed in 1861. It comprises twenty-five variations and a concluding fugue on a theme from Handel's Keyboard Suite No. 1 in B flat major, HWV 434. Brahms dedicated the work to his beloved friend, Clara Schumann. Genhart delivers a big-boned reading, contrasting the variations from exuberance and virtuosity to melting lyricism. The fugue is a veritable tour-de-force. The audience are treated to two encores by Antonin Kammel and Max Reger. Applause is retained throughout.
Having heard Genhart in solo recitals, it’s good to experience her artistry in two concerto performances. Both are Beethoven concertos, No. 1 recorded in 1936 and No. 4 dating from around 1955. The earliest performance, the most compelling in my view, derives from a private recording made by the pianist’s students. There’s much surface noise, but Seth B. Winner has worked a miracle to facilitate a listenable performance through all the swish and crackle. It’s a captivating reading, with the outer movements animated, vital and alive. Genhart uses a cadenza by Edwin Fischer. In the central slow movement, the last two measures are unfortunately missing. Guy Fraser Harrison, at the helm of the Rochester Philharmonic, is a sympathetic and inspirational partner. The Fourth Concerto is in better sound, and again there are missing measures, this time 190-238 in the Rondo finale. The orchestra and conductor are unnamed. The slow movement is captivatingly poetic, with the finale rhythmically alert and well-sprung.
In the booklet notes Seth B. Winner discusses the challenges he encountered is restoring the source material for these restorations. Listening to them, and despite the fluctuations in overall quality, he’s done a sterling job. The recordings derive from a variety of sources. Disc 2 is in the best sound. Overall, though, the set provides a wonderful opportunity for the listener to savour the sublime artistry of this distinguished pianist. Stewart Gordon provides an excellent commentary on the music performed in the accompanying annotations.
CD 1 [67:05]
ZADORA: Study on Chopin’s Waltz in D flat, Op. 64, No. 1
CHOPIN: Etude, Op. 10, No. 7
CHOPIN: Etude, Op. 10, No. 5
CHOPIN: Sonata No. 3, Op. 58
SCARLATTI: Sonata in D,K 96
LULLY arr. GODOWSKY: Courent in E minor
LULLY arr. GODOWSKY: Sarabande in E minor
LOEILLET arr. GODOWSKY: Gigue in E minor
BRAHMS:Intermezzo, Op. 119, No. 3
PALMGREN: En Route, Concert Study for Pianoforte
rec. Kilbourne Hall, Eastman School of Music 1941 & 1943
BERGSMA: Three Fanatasies for Piano Solo
BLOCH: In the Night – A Love Poem for Pianoforte
KENNAN: Three Preludes for the Pianoforte
PHILLIPS: Three Divertimenti
rec. WHAM radio station, Rochester, NY, 1944
PISTON: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra
rec. Eastman School of Music, 1939
Rochester Philharmonic/Howard Hanson
CD 2 [67:01]
BACH arr. BUSONI: Chaconne
BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78
BRAHMS: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24
KAMMEL: Gigue in B flat major*
REGER: Theme only from Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.S. Bach, Op. 81
rec. Cécile Genhart last solo recital 3 February, 1961 at Kilbourne Hall, Eastman School of Music
CD 3 [66:51]
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
rec. circa 1955
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
rec. 1936, Rochester Philharmonic/Guy Fraser Harrison