Notes and Editorial Reviews
GRIGORY GINZBURG: His Early Recordings
Grigory Ginzburg (pn)
APR 5667 (Volume 1; 77:29); 5672 (Volume 2; 78:34); mono
: Nos. 10, 11.
Les Cloches de Genève.
Etudes: Nos. 3, 4, 5
. Venezia e Napoli. Rigoletto Paraphrase.
The Marriage of Figaro.
Largo al factotum.
Toccata and Fugue in d.
Rondo brillante in E?.
Paganini Etudes: Nos. 2, 3, 4. “Abegg” Variations.
Impromptus: Nos. 1, 2, 3.
. Polonaise in B?. Polonaise in A?.
Voices of Spring.
Concert Arabesque on
The Blue Danube
These have to be among the greatest piano records ever made. Grigory Ginzburg (1904–61) was virtually an exact contemporary of another great Russian pianist, Vladimir Sofronitzky, and while neither was known in the West while alive, Sofronitzky has developed a somewhat wider reputation with the music-loving public than Ginzburg. After listening to these two CDs, and then following up with excellent volumes of live performance recordings on the Vox Aeterna label, it is clear to me that Ginzburg was one of the giants of the keyboard in the 20th century—different from, and at least the equal of, Sofronitzky.
Ginzburg was a student of Alexander Goldenweiser, one of the most significant of the Russian teachers of the first half of the 20th century. His early death prevented him from touring outside of Russia, because most of that happened after 1961. Some of his contemporaries, like Lev Oborin, lived into the 1970s and appeared in America and Europe. Gilels was born in 1916, but lived into the middle 1980s and had a big international career. Soviet artists before 1960 were buried, at least to the rest of us, inside Russia. And since they didn’t concertize in the West, neither did they record for any of the international labels—instead confining their recorded work to Melodiya. As more of this material comes out, we see what treasures were hidden behind the iron curtain. Among all those treasures, Ginzburg stands out.
What makes this piano playing so special? Just about everything. He makes the most difficult music sound easy—whether it is Liszt Paganini Etudes or his own transcription of Figaro’s “Largo al factotum” from
The Barber of Seville
, nothing seems to actually present any problem to his fingers. Every note is articulated with precisely the right weight and color; everything is in perfect proportion. His sense of balance between the poetic and the virtuosic is unique. He plays with flair and theatricality, but at the same time with a beauty of tone and purity of line that always touches as much as the virtuosity amazes. Even on these recordings, which date from the 1940s and 50s, the beauty of Ginzburg’s tone comes through (especially in Bryan Crimp’s superb transfers), and the remarkable variety of his dynamics is jaw-dropping. There seems to be an infinite number of variants of
. Listen to the repeated notes in Liszt’s
and you’ll be almost physically shocked at the clarity and evenness of the playing. Every single note is in place—
in place. What is particularly unique about his playing is that he manages to have great fun with the showy elements of this music without a hint of vulgarity. The Liszt
can easily be cheapened by over-indulging. Or they lose their character by a pianist taking them too seriously. Ginzburg does neither—all of the fun and flair that you would want is here, but at the same time a deeper beauty that one does not always encounter in this music. And if there is a pianist with a more vocal sense of singing line, of what a true
is, I haven’t encountered him.
After you have heard Ginzburg’s playing on these two discs, which consist entirely of shorter pieces, you might well want to go on to explore the five volumes of live performances released on Vox Aeterna. You can do an artist search at ArkivMusic to find them. Larger works such as Schumann’s
, Chopin sonatas, and Liszt concerti are available in that series.
I don’t think you can compare Ginzburg to any of the other Soviet-era pianists. He’s not Gilels, he’s not Richter, he’s not Lazar Berman. He is, in fact, Grigory Ginzburg, a pianist who, like any great artist, defines his own territory. We are indebted to APR for making these two discs available, and for the superb quality of the production. In addition to excellent transfers, Bryan Crimp provides illuminating, intelligent notes.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
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