The artistry of Moritz Rosenthal (1862-1946) arguably stands head and shoulders above all recorded Liszt pupils. Whatever thunder and power Rosenthal had lost by the time he made his first recordings in 1928 during his 66th year, his effortless facility, prodigious tonal palette, aristocratic rubato, and delicate tracery remain ravishing to behold.
Although Rosenthal's discography has been pretty well served in the CD era, this release marks the first time that the pianist's complete surviving recordings have been systematically reissued. Indeed, collectors familiar with earlier Rosenthal CDs will welcome certain items not easily available elsewhere. These include a 1928 American Okeh session released only on an obscureRead more Argentine Odeon disc (Chopin's C-sharp minor Waltz, G major Mazurka Op. 67 No. 1, and E minor Waltz), an alternate take of Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau, plus a lesser known 1931 version of Rosenthal's Blue Danube Fantasy based on Strauss themes that is not quite so well recorded or played as the more frequently reissued 1928 RCA Victor version.
Only one copy is known to exist of a 1929 Japanese Parlophone 78 with the second and finest of Rosenthal's four Chopin C-sharp minor Waltz recordings (previously reissued by IPAM in the collection "A Multitude of Pianists"). However, the "flip side" contains three Chopin Preludes Rosenthal did not record elsewhere: No. 20 in C minor is assertive and brash, and is interesting in that the pianist follows modern practice by playing E-flat on the third measure's fourth beat, whereas many 19th-century pianists opt for E-natural. No. 1 in C major is forthright and incisively accented, while No. 19 in E-flat major's taxing arpeggiated figurations are smoothly phrased, notwithstanding small melody-note finger slips.
Rosenthal's textual liberties are very much in keeping with the aesthetic of his generation: notice the glissandos at the end of Chopin's "Black Key" Etude; the E minor concerto's embeliishments; the dotting of undotted rhythms; and the breaking of hands (playing the left before the right) and freewheeling cadenzas to the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and Chopin/Liszt Maiden's Wish.
Yet these devices are used to great poetic purpose, and with a multi-leveled finesse and specificity that takes your breath away. Even the simple Chopin A major Prelude mesmerizes by virtue of Rosenthal's pinpointed timing and patiently drawn out long lines, while the narrative peaks and valleys Rosenthal divines in Chopin's A-flat Nouvelle Etude make most other performances sound pleasantly boring. By contrast, the C major Op. 10 No. 1 Etude couldn't be more fluid and direct, and Rosenthal suavely binds the difficult right-hand extensions with little aid from the sustain pedal.
While Rosenthal's final sessions do not reveal the pianist at his best (they never appeared during his lifetime), Chopin's B minor sonata still boasts beautiful moments, as in the first movement's second subject, and the Largo's hypnotic legato. By all accounts Ward Marston's transfers stem from the best source material available. The clear, well-balanced results Marston wrings from the challenging 1929 Edison sessions and the bass-shy Lindström group sessions from Berlin improve upon his previous Biddulph transfers.
However, Seth Winner's Pearl remasterings of the Liszt Liebesträume No. 3 and aforementioned Rhapsody No. 2 boast more brightness and room tone than what Marston uncovers. And while APR's 1986 edition of Rosenthal's complete HMV 1934-37 recordings contains higher levels of shellac surface noise compared to Marston's relatively quiet new transfers, some listeners might prefer the earlier APR set's superior bass presence and warmer, less nasal equalizations. These are quibbles, however, and I cannot imagine any serious piano collector passing up this significant, unprecedented, caringly produced and reasonably priced reissue.
A Liszt Pupil's Autumnal RecordingsMay 5, 2013By T. Drake (South Euclid, OH)See All My Reviews"In his time, Rosenthal was as known for his lacerating wit as for his pianism: He called Vladimir Horowitz "an Octavian, not a Caesar"; derided Arthur Rubinstein as a "clown"; and said that Artur Schnabel was rejected from military service because he had "no fingers". Now the time has arrived for a reappraisal of Rosenthal the pianist, thanks to this five disc collection. It's apparent from the first track that we are hearing artistry of a type not heard these days. Rosenthal's philosophy, which sprang from his teaching as much as the era, was of freedom with the score - as opposed to fidelity to the score. Some listeners will be shocked at the liberties he takes, including moving passages an octave higher or lower, filling out bass notes (e.g., octaves are filled in to become chords - which creates an epic, boomy sonority), rubato is pushed to the extreme. Even by the standards of contemporaries like Rachmaninoff, this is very personalized music making. Fans of orthodox pianism, ala Maurizio Pollini, will not likely care for this set. These recordings were made between 1928 and 1942. Thus, Rosenthal was getting on in years even when the earliest of these recordings were made. It's fair to say that he was already past his prime, and they only give an incomplete picture of his playing. But what a picture it is for all that. Ward Marston's transfers reduce the inherent noise, while maintaining the higher frequencies. Rosenthal's exquisite pianissimos come through clearly even on the oldest recordings From engineering to presentation, this is a superb set - a doorway into an earlier interpretive era. A must for those interested in the performance practices of the Romantic era, or fans of great pianism."Report Abuse