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Myra Hess: Mostly Schubert

Hess / Schubert / Bach / Salmond / Scarlatti
Release Date: 07/10/2012 
Label:  Opus Kura   Catalog #: 2098   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz SchubertDomenico ScarlattiJohann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Myra Hess
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUBERT Piano Trio No. 1. Piano Sonata in A, D 664 Myra Hess (pn); Jelly d’Aranyi (vn); Felix Salmond (vc) OPUS KURA 2098 (68:10)

& BACH French Suite No. 5: Gigue. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (2 versions). SCARLATTI Sonata in G, Read more class="ARIAL12">K 14. SCHUBERT Rosamunde: Ballet Music

These essential Schubert recordings were made in 1927 and 1928 for American Columbia. They provided my first hearings of the Bb-Trio and the Sonata in A, on an ancient RCA Caedmon LP. I distinctly remember that the sonata played a half step too high, in Bb, with a resultingly faster tempo, a problem that doesn’t exist on this Opus Kura CD from Japan. What I don’t recall, though it was probably there, is the considerable amount of background hiss that accompanies the trio and to a lesser extent the sonata. It’s possible to listen past it—I imagine a healthily hissing fire in a hearth somewhere near the speakers—and to notice that the sound of the three instruments is clear and well balanced.

The sound notwithstanding, these performances are particularly treasurable because Myra Hess avoided the recording studio and didn’t leave that many recordings. Her student Stephen Kovacevich described her as “a virtuoso of sound rather than notes,” by which I think that he meant that Hess had the rare gift, shared by Schnabel and Rachmaninoff, of always transforming notes into sounds that translate into emotions for the listener. Here, with great felicity of touch and timing, she communicates a sense of Schubert’s music’s joy and her joy in playing it. A perfect example of the gracious, smiling quality behind her playing is her performance of her transcription of the ballet music from Rosumunde . It’s a virtuoso piece, but what comes across is fun she seems to be having with it, not the technical sleight of hand involved.

Schubert’s first trio showcases the strings. The piano part is equally important, but more often than not, it’s an accompaniment that provides pacing and harmony for the more obviously soloistic string parts. Hess’s playing is supple and unmannered, but not so self-effacing as to suggest that the piano is anything but essential, with a personality of its own at all times. The playing of her colleagues, the violinist Jelly d’Aranyi (a sonata partner of Bartók’s) and the British cello virtuoso Felix Salmond, is splendid and full of character, enlivened by unexpected but always tasteful slides, and faster vibrato that we hear today. The group’s ensemble is perfect. How unfortunate it is that this was their only recording as a trio.

Their interpretation is comparatively straightforward, with less extreme rubato than the other great historical performance of D 898, recorded in 1928, by Casals, Cortot, and Thibaud. Both trios understand that even though the work’s songlike slow movement is one of the most heartrendingly beautiful statements in all music, it is marked andante con moto and needs to flow. The music’s lilt and long phrases suffer under the weight of too reverent a slow tempo, a trap that the usually wary Beaux Arts Trio falls into. Hess and her colleagues, by taking fast tempos in the three faster movements, and omitting the repeats in third—something that no serious piano trio would dare do today, but that I find refreshing—manage to make the piece feel not a bit too long.

In Hess’s spontaneous-sounding interpretation of the Piano Sonata in A, the opening movement is relaxed and gentle. Her strong voicing of the right-hand melody makes the second rather intense, and she brings out the last movement’s impulsive character with great speed and shaping in the 16th notes. Among other delightful encores, the disc offers her signature Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring transcription in two versions, both glorious, though considerably slower in 1940 than in 1928.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 in B flat major, D 898/Op. 99 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Myra Hess (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1828; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1927 
Sonata for Piano in A major, D 664/Op. 120 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Myra Hess (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1819/1825; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1928 
Rosamunde, D 797/Op. 26: no 3, Ballet music no 1 in B minor by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Myra Hess (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1823; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1928 
Sonata for Harpsichord in G major, K 14/L 387 by Domenico Scarlatti
Performer:  Myra Hess (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1738 
Date of Recording: 1940 
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147: Jesu bleibet meine Freude "Jesu, joy of man's desiring" by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Myra Hess (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1928 / 1940 
Notes: Includes two tracks of this piece, recorded in 1928 and 1940. 
French Suite no 5 in G major, BWV 816: no 7, Gigue by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Myra Hess (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1928 

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