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Kwast-Hodapp Germany MC1059

Frieda Kwast-Hodapp (piano)
German Radio Recordings 1948
MELOCLASSIC MC1059 [78 + 78]

During the length of her distinguished career Frieda Kwast-Hodapp (1880-1949) made just one solitary 78 – three Scarlatti sonatas coupled with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No.20 for German Electola (there were some piano rolls too). Given her reputation and repertoire, and the prestige she enjoyed, this is a desperately meagre return. Some kind of explanation can probably be found in her 1931 retirement from the concert stage, which lasted for eleven years – precisely the time when she could, in theory, have been a rival to Elly Ney, Wilhelm Kempff and others and when she would have been at the height of her powers. Evidently, she preferred playing for just a select few.

She was taught by James Kwast at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt and by the turn of the century was earning fine reviews: she also married Kwast in 1902. She was particularly associated with Reger’s Concerto, which she played over 50 times, eleven of them with Reger conducting. But her repertoire was large and she performed concertos with leading conductors and orchestras.

It's especially valuable that these 1948 broadcast performances have survived because they include the Reger, which had been dedicated to her, as well as Bach, whose Preludes and Fugues she often performed. Melo Classic provides a note explaining that Kwast-Hodapp received serious injuries in a railway accident just before she made these radio broadcasts and thereafter had to rely on printed music; she could no longer play from memory. I’m sure this explains the finger slips in the Hammerklavier. But these are maters of superficial interest whereas this twofer is of huge significance.

She plays Scriabin’s Preludes, Op.11. Just before her withdrawal from the concert stage she had taken some Debussy into her repertoire and one can perhaps intuit something of what she must have found in the repertoire. Her Scriabin is sharply characterised, and she sculpts the bass line in the Allegro assai (No,7) and brings flecks of the funereal to No.16. Reger’s Andantino espressivo is an attractive slice of her rerptoire whilst the Fortner Sonatina, composed in 1935, shows her commitment to the contemporary repertoire. Its crisp neoclassicism shows her strong technique and is inclined to a fleet sense of dynamism – and at eight minutes or so it makes its presence felt without undue deliberation. She plays the first eight Preludes and Fugues from Book I and two from Book II of the Well-Tempered Klavier. The notes mention ringing overtones and a lack of balance to the sound but I can’t say these elements troubled me, so characterful is the playing – the C minor is wonderfully driven and vivid playing. The Fugues offer freedom but within a pulse.

Disc 2 opens with the Hammerklavier. The conception is powerful though the execution is subject to some frailties – especially in the Scherzo and the finale. It can make for a difficult listen at times, and the ways in which her playing differs from, say, Kempff’s – his revealing clarity and lighter touch being two of the most obvious ways – suggest that, allied to her own frailties, to have heard her in the late 20s would have been the optimum time. Nevertheless, there is something heroic about her decision to play on in the light of her railway accident, something that is made abundantly clear in the Reger Concerto. Nowadays it’s Rudolf Serkin’s performance that has long been representative but with the RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester under Ewald Lindemann, Kwast-Hodapp shows why she was considered Reger’s greatest exponent of the work which she had premiered with Nikisch back in 1910. It’s not an especially grateful work to manoeuvre but the high point of this performance is the slow movement where she finds a rarefied elegance that proves durably expressive. It offers a moment of reprieve amidst the sombre, tricky outer movements though even here she manages to find lightness and wit in the finale. A year later she was dead.

Considering the tribulations that the tapes have been through they sound fine and restoration work has clearly been deservedly lavished on them. This is something of a major undertaking which has been augmented by a first-class booklet note from Michael Waiblinger.

Jonathan Woolf

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Preludes, Op 11
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Aus Meinem Tagebuch, Op.82 No.3: Andantino espressivo
rec. 19 March 1948, Berlin, Studio Heidelberger Platz, NWDR Radio Studio Recording
Wolfgang Fortner (1907-1987)
rec. 4 May 1948, Frankfurt Altes, HR Radio Studio Recording
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugues No 1 to No 8, BWV 846-53, WTK, Book I
Prelude & Fugue No 6 in D Minor, BWV 875, WTK, Book II
Prelude & Fugue No 17 in A-flat Major, BWV 886, WTK, Book II
rec. 26 April 1948, Stuttgart Studio I, SDR, Radio Studio Recording
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1828)
Piano Sonata No 29 in B-flat Major, Op 106 Hammerklavier
rec. 10 October 1948, Studio Kleiststraße, RIAS Radio Studio Recording
Max Reger
Piano Concerto in F Minor, Op 114
RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester/Ewald Lindemann
rec. 7 March 1948, Berlin, Titania Palast, RIAS Live Recording

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