(3 CDs for 2 at mid-price.) English born pianist Harold Bauer originally hoped to make his career as violinist but his piano playing so impressed Paderewski that he subsequntly focussed on that instrument. He had huge success in the USA and as a result became a US citizen in 1917. Bauer was not a crowd pleasing virtuoso firebrand but rather a true musician; there is always a wonderful poetry to his art and he excelled in miniatures, such as the Grieg presented here, though his legendary recording of the Brahms f minor sonata (still a benchmark) shows he had the requisite virtuosity when needed. These new transfers by Ward Marston are the only ones currently available of Bauer's legacy.
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Harold Bauer was a rara avis, indeed, a concert pianist who never had a formal piano lesson, enjoyed a concert career lasting nearly five decades and was a respected teacher at institutions of higher learning; were he to come along five decades after his death, Bauer would never had made it past the front door of any American university as instructor. One thing Bauer was not was a particularly prolific recording artist; Bauer's most famous and widely circulated recordings were made for Victor between 1924 and 1929, to which he added a final group in 1942; another batch was made for the short-lived Schirmer label in 1939 and Bauer recorded a few things for British HMV in 1935. All of this material is included in APR's Harold Bauer: The Complete Recordings, though the "complete" part is somewhat subjective; the set does not include Bauer's chamber music recordings with others, nor the audio track of the 1926 Vitaphone film in which he appeared with violinist Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. Also, if one is of the opinion that a hand-played piano roll is a recording, then Bauer more than doubled his phonographic output in solos for player pianos.
As one would expect with a package containing the entire life's work of a single pianist, Harold Bauer: The Complete Recordings has its ups and downs. His 1928 Victor recording of his own transcription of Bach's chorale setting "Jesu, Joy of a Man's Desiring" -- well-known to any player who cannot hack the Hess or finds the Busoni bedeviling -- does not raise to a level much above that of what a good amateur pianist can do with it. The Adagio sostenuto of his 1926 Beethoven "Moonlight" Sonata -- a work for which he was famous in concerts -- is a little lumpy and uncoordinated, though his Presto agitato is quite simply on fire. That is one of the amazing things about Bauer; relatively simple things tend to trip him up, whereas he was able to take difficult, virtuosic material and deliver it with intensity, drive, and absolute assurance. With Bauer, technique was not the prime consideration, musicianship was, and if there was any time where he felt his technique was letting him down, the musicianship took over. All of Bauer's performances emphasize the melodic line -- his first instrument was the violin -- and concentrate very productively on the dramatic progression of a particular piece; Bauer's tone is likewise warm and inviting. His 1939 Schirmer recording of the Brahms Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor is a benchmark performance of that work, a prime example of pianistic power and passion in the romantic keyboard idiom.
APR's transfers, generally, are excellent -- all of the material from Victor and HMV is quiet on the noise and productive on the piano end, well enough for just about anyone who can tolerate slightly constricted mono sound to enjoy all of those performances without discomfort. The bugbear in Bauer's recorded output is the Schirmers, pressed on hopelessly noisy surfaces and the masters lost long ago. The Schirmer that matters most is the Brahms sonata mentioned above -- perhaps his finest recording overall -- and that sounds fine in this APR package, though some of the other ones just simply cannot escape the ferocious noise of the original pressings. On the upside, however, are the inclusion of nine 1942 Victors that have never appeared before; in some cases it's easy to tell why they weren't initially put out, but Bauer's playing is fascinating even when it isn't 100%.
Harold Bauer was somewhere in between a virtuosic maverick of the piano -- like his idol and mentor Ignace Jan Paderewski -- and your brilliantly talented Uncle Ed who played the piano so well you wondered what ever kept him out of the concert hall. APR's Harold Bauer: The Complete Recordings is certainly the most comprehensive package of his recordings to be found on CD, and anyone who loves the piano and can withstand the vagaries of mono era recording technology will well regard this collection and perhaps even cherish some of the performances within. While history has given us a lot of great pianists, there was still only one Harold Bauer, and this is a fitting tribute to his superhuman achievements and honestly documents his very human shortcomings as a pianist.