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Frieda Kwast-Hodapp
German Radio Recordings 1948
Frieda Kwast-Hodapp (piano)
RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester/Ewald Lindemann
rec. March to October 1948, various venues
MELOCLASSIC MC1059 [2 CDs: 157]

Frieda Kwast-Hodapp zugeeignet – these words grace the first page of Max Reger's monumental Piano concerto but otherwise this magnificent German pianist has slipped between the lines of the history books. This is not surprising as until now the only commercial examples of her playing were the four short pieces that she recorded for Electrola in 1933, sparklingly performances of Bach and Scarlatti that I think have only been released on CD once (International Piano Archives at Maryland IPAM1206). These unearthed recordings from the pianist's 68th year are therefore a valuable addition to her discography and give us a considerably greater insight into this artist once described by Percy Grainger as the most prodigious talent amongst woman pianists I have ever encountered.
She was born in Bargen, near Constance, in 1880, and was the second oldest of fourteen children. Her talents were apparent from an early age; her father was keen to push Frieda as a child prodigy and as such she was left, at the tender age of seven, to study with a teacher in Karlsruhe, only visiting her parents during the holidays. She made progress under Anna Mozer and was able to give some concerts to earn money for her family before she had advanced sufficiently enough to enter the Frankfurt Conservatory and study with the man who she was eventually to marry, James Kwast. Her father's dreams of her following a glittering career as a prodigy were dashed as Kwast insisted that Frieda's technical equipment needed serious attention and she spent the first year concentrating on exercises under the watchful eye of Mikoo Scheepmaker, another of Kwast's students. She was twelve when she became Kwast's full time pupil and less than two years later she was chosen to play a Haydn Concerto. At 17 she began to teach the preschool class. Her first proper public appearance was at a memorial service in memory of Brahms, where she played the composer's Paganini variations as well as a Liszt Hungarian rhapsodie and in 1898 she won first prize in a Berlin competition playing Bach, Chopin and Brahms' F minor Sonata; Wilhelm Backhaus took second prize. Now an accomplished and acclaimed artist she was soon touring, giving recitals in Russia as well as playing the G minor Concerto by Saint-SaŽns and, inbetween all this activity she married James Kwast, who had left the Frankfurt Conservatory because of his relationship with Frieda. Over the next few years she toured extensively and shared the stage with many prestigious performers; Josef Szigeti, Willem Mengleberg and the Concertgebouw orchestra, Arthur Nikisch and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Bruno Walter, Erich Kleiber and Otto Klemperer are just a few of the names mentioned in the comprehensive booklet. The Reger Concerto was written for her and she performed this often, occasionally with Reger himself at the podium, but she had many concertos in her repertoire from Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt and Grieg to newer works such as the concerto by Count Bolko von Hochberg and the Pfitzner concerto which she performed in 1923, soon after the March 1923 premiere given by Walter Gieseking. Her solo repertoire was large and featured many modern works including music by Debussy, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Fortner, who dedicated his 1943 Piano Concerto to her. James Kwast died in 1927, the very day Frieda returned from an extended concert tour but she continued to concertise up to 1931, retiring from the concert platform when she married Dr. Otto Krebs; this appears to have been a personal choice rather than one directed by her new husband. She resumed performing after a break of eleven years, playing works by Reger in 1942 and the Fortner Concerto in 1943 although her repertoire was not now so extensive; she also spent much of her time teaching. After a railway accident she suffered from issues with her memory that meant she had to play from scores but it didn't stop her performing and the radio recordings here date from a late period of activity in the year before her death. In addition to the works she plays on these two discs she played Reger's Telemann Variations which she had premiered in 1915 and his Bach Variations, Mozart and Beethoven Sonatas as well as the Pfitzner Concerto on the same programme as the Reger Concerto, a massive undertaking for someone with failing health who seven years earlier had described herself as an old woman when she first thought of returning to the concert stage.

In March 1948 she played a programme of Scriabin Preludes as well as an extract from My Diary by Reger. Only the first 18 Preludes are played; the notes do not say whether the entire set was played at the time but these performances make one wish they had been included. Kwast-Hodapp is seemingly in her element with passionate, easy flowing lines and beautiful control of dynamics, most especially in pianissimo playing – noteworthy in all her playing. In some of the preludes marked andante, Nos 5, 10 and 12, she adopts quite a speedy tempo, certainly faster than I have heard these pieces played. It is perhaps only in the tenth, marvellously played though it is, that I feel the faster tempo loses the evocation of tolling bells, so eloquently written by Scriabin. The A major prelude, the seventh of set is not played as the etude that it is often treated as and her flexible playing emphasises its pastoral nature. There is something of the old style in her playing where a melody note lingers just a little behind the accompaniment but it does not detract from the playing at all and indeed there is a timelessness to some of the slower numbers; just listen to the E minor or G-flat major preludes and the utter simplicity of the D-flat prelude. There are the odd slip here and there but again this does not detract and she betrays no frailty in the more virtuoso items. She made me look anew at these pieces that I thought I knew so well – what a shame the last six are missing! As a little consolation there is a delicious little miniature by Reger, restless yearning in its outer sections with the constantly weaving triplet accompaniment, a web of sound that even joins the slightly more optimistic central theme.

In April she recorded ten of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier – the first eight from Book One and numbers six and seventeen from Book Two. These are attractive performances though often quite romantic; some bass note doublings at the end of pieces, quite grand ritardandos, plenty of pedal, especially in the eighth prelude though with no lack of clarity and almost impressionist textures at times. There is also a good amount of real pianissimo playing, quite extravagantly so in the case of the E-flat minor fugue whose ending fades to nothing. It makes for individual playing that not everyone will respond to, but I love it. Just over a week later Kwast-Hodapp recorded the delightful Sonatina by composer and teacher Wolfgang Fortner. Fortner, who went on to teach composers such as Hans Werner Henze amongst many others, wrote this short work in 1935, the same year he set up the ensemble for new music, the Heidelberg Chamber Orchestra. The work is far from steadfastly modern, quite tonal with quicksilver outer movements enfolding a pastoral slow movement. With its hints of French frivolity and mid European folk music it is a little gem that Kwast-Hodapp obviously relished playing.

On 10th October 1948 she gave an all Beethoven recital which was recorded though the tapes were later erased. The Hammerklavier recording here is from a studio performance recorded on the same day. There are a few more finger slips here than in her earlier performances though they still do not mar this fine performance. Most noticeable is the third movement which comes in at 13:41, quite a bit faster than most performances (Schnabel 18:09, Annie Fischer 19:51, Solomon 22:21 and even Gieseking is a minute slower at 14:51) though it tends to be because she pushes the tempo a little at moments of passion and at new themes. The flexibility and flow is quite individual but engaging. There are slips in the fugue, understandably but again they tend to be minor fluffs and I never felt she wasn't in charge of matters, handling the subjects with utter security and plenty of texture and character.

To round out this portrait of Kwast-Hodapp Meloclassic include the live performance that she gave of Reger's F minor Concerto at Berlin's Titania Palast on March 7th, 1948, some 38 years after she gave the premiere under the baton of Arthur Nikisch. According to the notes of Hyperion's release of this work (Hyperion Records CDA67635 review) the manuscript, destroyed during the war, bore the words this beastly stuff belongs to Frau Kwast and in June of 1910 he wrote to her saying you'll sweat, really sweat! Perhaps she did but it was a work she played over fifty times and received praise for her performances though the work itself didn't generally fare so well. I can't say it is piece that is high on my list of romantic concertos but it is effective enough and it is certainly hard not to be swept away by the heroic performance that is given here; dense chordal writing, mountains of octaves and cross rhythms aside both soloist and orchestra are valiant in their conviction. At 21:14 for the first movement Kwast-Hodapp is on the broader side of things compared to Hamelin 17:55 or Erdmann 18:29 (Orfeo C722071B) but this is not to say that she sounds ponderous, quite the opposite mostly and it is perhaps in the molto tranquillo moments that she tends to linger. The rich dialogue between soloist and orchestra in the slow movement is marvellous and the eleven bars for just soloist that open the movement and reappear after the turmoil of the central section are almost heart wrenching to listen to. The finale, rambunctious and jovial almost belies the somewhat tame allegretto tempo marking though the con spirito is certainly apt and these performances just ooze with it and there is no let up in Kwast-Hodapp's drive or verve – listening to this performance I wonder if I should give the concerto another chance.

This is such a valuable document. The Reger Concerto will never set the world's stages alight but to have such a convincing performance by the performer it was written for and who had worked on it with the composer himself is an absolute treasure. I enjoyed the few minutes of her recordings that she laid down in 1933 and never thought I would have the opportunity to get to know this wonderful pianist better and in such a wide and varied range of repertoire; thanks must go to Michael Waiblinger whose booklet notes are once again detailed and informative and mostly to Lynn Ludwig at Meloclassic for another first class release.

Rob Challinor
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf (June 2022)

Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915)
Preludes Op 11 Nos 1-18 (1888-1896)
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Andantino espressivo from My Diary Op 82 Band 2 No 6 (1906)
rec. 19 Mar, 1948 at NWDR, Studio Heidelberger Platz, Berlin
Wolfgang Fortner (1907-1987)
Sonatina (1935)
rec. 4 May, 1948 at HR, Altes Funkhaus, Frankfurt
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
The Well-Tempered Clavier exc Books I and II
rec 26 Apr, 1948 at SDR Studio 1, Stuttgart
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 29 Op 106 (1818)
rec. 10 Oct, 1948 at RIAS, Studio Kleiststrasse, Berlin
Max Reger
Piano Concerto in F minor Op 114 (1910)
rec. 7 mar, 1948 at RIAS, Titania Palast, Berlin – live recording

Published: October 11, 2022

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