Refined pianism, rapt pianissimi, feathery intimacy, delicate gradations of touch and tone.
There can never too many Neuhaus discs on the market. His rugged and direct profundity of spirit survives the reduced sonics of Moscow recordings with unassailable conviction. That he was dubbed the “philosopher pianist” was not necessarily a wise thing, though neither is it a reason to reject the nobility and elevation of his playing as somehow too rarefied or lacking in nuance. Neither is remotely true.
His Tempest Sonata is a splendid example of the implacable strength of his approach. Recorded in 1946 by which time he was fifty-eight it’s certainly not note perfect by any means. But such matters as the droppedRead more notes in the opening movement are of little account when measured against the sense of engagement with the music that Neuhaus stakes out. There is no sense of externalised music making in a performance such as this, simply an accumulated concentration on what Neuhaus locates as the music’s essence - conveyed in a way that can be terse and maybe even clipped, but that rewards the listener with the gravity and depth of the understanding.
The Scriabin Preludes - we have five of the Op.11 recorded in Moscow in 1946 – are beautifully balanced and nuanced performances. They stand at a refined remove from the galvanic and kinetic dynamism engendered by Sofronitsky in this repertoire but are valuably appealing documents in their own right. The D major is perhaps the most sheerly beautifully in its rounded warmth.
The earliest recordings here are the two Chopin Mazurkas, made in 1938. Not only are they notably vivid performances but they announce, as it were, the matter of the Gauk-led 1951 E minor concerto recording. As with all these performances here the Concerto has appeared before on CD - I last reviewed it in the context of a compilation by Classical Record CR 057 and a reprise of that review might be appropriate. I can certainly imagine the objections to this recording. How can one live with the constricted sound, why are the fiddles so stringy, why is the piano so splintery, where do its ornaments disappear to, how can one live with the lack of clarity and definition between sections and orchestral choirs, or the uniformity of recording levels...and so on. But given the intractable engineering problems we might as well listen to the aristocratic Neuhaus, abetted by Gauk, to whom someone, perhaps in my lifetime, will devote an edition or two.
So let's admit the limitations and then admire the playing. Delicate filigree, dynamics we will for the most part have to take on trust, beautiful elegance, a vocalised intimacy of projection; these are the things that make one listen through and beyond surface limitations. In the second movement we can add to the list pliancy and pellucid phrasing and in the finale wit: that and Neuhaus's control over elasticity of phrase lengths - all splendid. So, yes, the wind counter-themes in the finale are only just about audible and the fruitful exchanges between soloist and orchestra are perforce muted. But it's for Neuhaus we have come and it's for Neuhaus we will stay. His refined pianism, his rapt pianissimi (dynamic levels permitting), the feathery intimacy of his phrasing, the delicate gradations of touch and tone…all these things stay permanently in the mind.
APR’s notes are fine and their transfers deal well with some of the more difficult and constricted Soviet recordings.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International Read less