Notes and Editorial Reviews
Belongs on the shelves of every piano collector, and anyone seriously interested in Chopin interpretation on disc.
To mark the composer’s bicentennial year Marston has issued this elegant four CD set, splendidly transferred and with an excellent booklet, as ever. The box contains 90 selections played by 65 different pianists, and the dates of recordings range from two Paul Pabst 1895 private cylinders - which you can also find in Marston’s amazing Julius Bock recordings set - to 2003. The selections are cannily chosen, mostly to promote the idea of individuality and romantic freedom in Chopin performance, but also for exceptional rarity value as well, so some are live performances, and some you will assuredly not have
The first disc is given over to the Etudes. I listened with a deliberately vague eye on the track running order, so was often unaware who was performing; I kept crafty looks to a bare minimum. The results were often surprising. Why, for example, don’t I admire Rosenthal’s 1929 Edison of the Op.10 No.1 more than I’m supposed to? Is it the left hand’s drumming away and the quixotic hand balancing? I found Cortot’s A minor puckish and delightful. Rosita Renard is only so-so in her 1949 Etude in E, but Sidney Foster - you’d need to be a real pianophile to know him - turns in an amazing performance of the C sharp minor from a recital at Indiana University in 1952; powerful, passionate, bringing out voicings in a most unusual and personalised way. His
Black Key from a similar recital a decade later is less incendiary but still very good indeed. Let’s have more from this remarkable musician. Is there much? Backhaus is warmly textured, while Planté gives us a pecking start to the Seventh in C on his 1928 French Columbia, before an increasingly hectic drive to a mirth-inducing close. Odd - but interesting, and he
was 89 at the time. Nicolai Orloff’s left hand has ‘gone fishing’ in his 1945 Decca of the Eighth; was it Decca or Orloff, or both? Solomon’s F minor is truly poetic, Garrick Ohlsson’s Tenth attractive, Irene Scharrer ripples away delightfully in her 1933 Columbia. Rubinstein’s
Revolutionary must have come via a hand-held cassette. Op.25 offers similar points of interest and contention; more from that Rubinstein recital, Ginzburg in 1952, Anda in wartime Berlin, Svetlanov in Moscow in 1980, and very good too, as anyone who knows his Medtner will have been prepared to aver. Ought I to tempt you further with the names of Barere (the World Program Service Impromptu), Saperton, von Sauer, Friedman, Tagliaferro - where does one start, or stop?
These are the kinds of riches you will find in this box, one for a lifetime’s contemplation and enjoyment. Of course, you won’t like everything, but that’s only to be expected. I don’t go a bundle on Earl Wild’s manicured and erratic G minor Ballade in the second disc. I did like the supercharged central panel of Bolet’s live 1972 New York Ballade in F minor; combustible but in dodgy cassette sound. Natan Brand, rather like Foster, brings out myriad shadings and voicings in his live 1983 recital, in a very original characterful performance. Scharrer is heard again, this time in the B flat minor Scherzo. Clearly the compilers Gregor Benko and Ward Marston have a soft spot for this very underrated English pianist. Up pops Karl Ulrich Schnabel. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting his C sharp minor Scherzo to be this good - but it most certainly is. The three selected Preludes from Op.28 are all from Levitzki from his famous 1929 session whilst another seven are in the variable hands of Guiomar Novaes (NYC, 1966, live), who is far too insistent with the
Raindrop. I assume the 1935 BBC broadcast of Rosenthal in the (incomplete) Largo of the Third Sonata is via the Leech Collection - or am I wrong?
The third disc opens with the famous live Hofmann/Barbirolli Chopin Concerto in F minor, of which we hear the second movement. Moiseiwitsch’s Barcarolle wasn’t issued on 78 though it’s been on CD. There’s an unpublished Electrola of Lubka Kolessa (Berlin, 1936) in a Mazurka, and we also hear a splendid conjunction of Russian talents; Sofronitsky and Feinberg side by side in Mazurkas. Antonietta Rudge is heard in a 1934 Brazilian disc, though no details are provided about it; was it a private issue? Especially lovely is another Rubinstein performance, this time of the Op.34/1 Waltz taken from the Hollywood Bowl in 1950. Try to hear the ever-wonderful Arthur Loesser in his electrical test from 1925 of the A flat Waltz Op.42. Good sound, great performance. We also hear from the typically puzzling Michael von Zadora in the
Francesco Libetta’s Op.27/2 Nocturne is the most recent performance, should you want to know, and it’s in the final disc. So too is a very early example of Alicia de Larrocha’s art - the Op.32/1 Waltz (Barcelona, 1932). Marcel Ciampi’s C minor waltz Op.48/1 is very slow but very beautiful, with an exquisite tone, audible despite the high ration of surface noise. Incidentally faithful Marston subscribers receive a ‘Lagniappe’ disc, and this year it was Ciampi’s complete 78rpm solo recordings, than which things don’t get very much better. Fania Chapiro bucks the trend with a 1982 Fidelio performance on an 1820 Broadwood. Tracks 11-18 are labelled ‘historic recordings’ given that they range from 1895-1922. The roll-call - mouths prepare to salivate now - reads; Paderewski, Grünfeld, Rachmaninoff, Michalowski, Busoni, those Pabsts and then an out-of-sequence rarity - Bartók playing an incomplete Nocturne Op.27 No.1 from 1939.
Well then. This set belongs on the shelves of every piano collector, and anyone seriously interested in Chopin interpretation on disc.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
The broad range of pianists selected for this remarkable anthology (astutely and intelligently curated by Gregor Benko and Ward Marston) are represented by performances recorded between 1895 and 2003, almost all of which strike a delicate balance in regard to freedom, taste, proportion, and classicism. More importantly, each artist makes Chopin come alive.
Ignaz Friedman's celebrated 1936 E-flat Nocturne Op. 55 No. 2 is the ultimate case in point, but the same holds true of Marcel Ciampi's less known yet grippingly sustained Op. 48 No. 1 C minor Nocturne. I first listened through the four discs without identifying the pianists, and when I learned who they were I often was surprised. Few of Earl Wild's studio Chopin efforts come close to the live G minor Ballade here--so outlandish, yet so inevitable, octave doublings and all. That delightfully fleet Op. 30 No. 4 C-sharp minor Mazurka, with a color change on every beat, belongs to the late, undervalued Joseph Villa. I swore that the amazingly fast and fiercely authoritative C-sharp minor Op. 10 No. 4 Etude was Sviatoslav Richter in his prime--but no, it's Sidney Foster.
An Op. 25 No. 5 Etude with hot liquid cantabiles and rubatos that stretch out to high heaven yet never snap? The young Geza Anda. An impetuous, unbuttoned C-sharp minor Scherzo? None other than Karl Ulrich Schnabel. And who would have credited this sensitive, texturally three-dimensional C-sharp minor Op. 25 No. 7 Etude to conductor Evgeny Svetlanov in one of his rare recorded keyboard outings?
Jorge Bolet's blazing live 1972 Fourth Ballade leaves his logy Decca studio version in the dust, while a few wrong notes don't matter at all when the 87-year-old Arthur Rubinstein plays the F major Op. 25 No. 3 Etude with more poetry and character than anyone else (listen to how easily he tosses off the final upward run, and slightly slows down to place the last few notes--what a sense of timing!).
We expect Friedman's rollicking, slightly madcap A-flat Polonaise to be full of textual add-ons, but not the normally cool and patrician Solomon to transpose a couple of the A major "Military" Polonaise's left-hand chords down an octave. Those who buy Harold C. Schonberg's damning assessment of Vladimir de Pachmann need to know his best recordings, such as this very straightforward and rather forceful rendition of the E minor Op. 72 No. 1 Nocturne, recorded in 1927 when the pianist was nearly 80. And there's nothing remotely erratic or sloppy concerning Paderewski's crystalline, gorgeously nuanced A minor Mazurka Op. 17 No. 4. I'd also apply this praise to an unpublished test pressing featuring Arthur Loesser in the A-flat Waltz Op. 42.
Listeners, of course, will discover their own surprises, as well as reconnect with old favorites in properly pitched, newly minted transfers. Buy this release while you can, and hope that Ward Marston and associates have something equally special in store for Liszt's 200th birthday year in 2011.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Waltz for Piano in E minor, B 56 by Frédéric Chopin
Dinu Lipatti (Piano)
Written: 1830; Poland
Date of Recording: 7/1950
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