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8.111116 - MOISEIWITSCH, Benno: Acoustic Recordings 1916-1925 (Moiseiwitsch, Vol. 10)
Great Pianists: Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963), Volume 10
Benno Moiseiwitsch was born in 'the cradle of Russian pianism' Odessa, in 1890. At the age of nine he won the Anton Rubinstein prize, and after being told by the Guildhall School of Music in London that they could teach him nothing, he went, at the age of fourteen, to Vienna where he studied with the great teacher Theodore Leschetizky. At first Leschetizky told young Benno that he could play better with his feet, but Benno was undeterred and spent nearly two years in Vienna perfecting his art with the great master. His British debut was in Reading in 1908 and his London debut took place two years later. From 1919 he toured Europe and the United States regularly and had an international career that took him to every corner of the world.
This volume of Moiseiwitsch's recordings contains all of his discs made by the acoustic process of composers other than Chopin. Moiseiwitsch made his first recordings in April 1916 when he was 26. Within the six years since he made his London début, Moiseiwitsch had already built a firm reputation so it is not surprising that he was signed by HMV, the largest company at the time.
Before 1924, the recording process was a primitive affair where the sound was captured by a horn and these vibrations transmitted to the wax via a diaphragm and cutting stylus. The piano was a notoriously difficult instrument to capture, particularly the high notes and upper frequencies, so it is surprising that HMV had Moiseiwitsch record works that were quiet and impressionistic like Ravel's Jeux d'eau. However, as early as July 1911 HMV recorded Paderewski on location at his home in Switzerland where a combination of four horns of varying size was employed to gather the sound. By 1916 HMV's engineers managed to capture a fair amount of detail and with modern restoration techniques and mint copies of the discs some astonishing results can be obtained.
There were four recording sessions in 1916 from which only seven sides were published, none from a single session in 1917, and three from a single session in 1918. At this last session Moiseiwitsch recorded another quiet impressionistic piece, Debussy's Clair de lune and two pieces by the Finnish composer Selim Palmgren.
On 1 and 8 February 1919 Moiseiwitsch played recitals in Liverpool and Brighton. The programme opened with Pastorale and Capriccio by Scarlatti arranged by Tausig and Rameau's Gavotte and Variations. He recorded these works for HMV on 3 February, but they were not issued. He returned on 11 June and made successful recordings of these works together with Debussy's Minstrels, written only nine years before, and Liszt's arrangement of Schubert's Hark! Hark! the lark. Two more sessions were scheduled in 1919 in which he recorded Schumann's Carnaval, Op. 9, twice, but it was never issued and he did not record the work again until the LP era (for American Decca).
Between the end of November 1919 and April 1920 Moiseiwitsch toured America giving no less than four recitals at New York's Carnegie Hall. From May to September 1920 he toured Australia and from October began another tour of the United States beginning on the west coast, not returning to England until April 1921. He had been on tour for eighteen months, and after arriving at Southampton on the Adriatic on 15th April 1921 after only one week's rest he was playing a recital at the Queen's Hall in London.
On 13 September 1921 Moiseiwitsch played Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 at a Queen's Hall Prom in London. The following day he gave a solo recital in Queen's Hall that he repeated in Torquay and Bournemouth over the next few days. On the 19th of the same month Moiseiwitsch was back at HMV where he recorded an impressively fast and clear Perpetuum mobile by Weber and two short pieces, another by Palmgren and an Arabesque by his old teacher Leschetizky. It is interesting to note that Moiseiwitsch's current recital programme opened with Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata followed by a group of short pieces by Stravinsky, Eugene Goossens, Moszkowski, Chopin and Palmgren, with Liszt's Mephisto Waltz concluding the concert.
Two popular encores by Moszkowski and Delibes were recorded in March 1922 whilst a session on 4 May produced Mussorgsky's Gopak and Schumann's Traumeswirren. Five days later Moiseiwitsch was at the Salle Gaveau in Paris where he gave two recitals, the second of which included Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor, Schumann's Kreisleriana Op. 16, and Chopin's Four Ballades. On 13 June he recorded a work that he was not publicly performing at that time, the Barcarolle in F minor Op. 30 No. 1by Anton Rubinstein. In the early part of his career Moiseiwitsch had some unusual and contemporary works in his repertoire; on 21 November 1921 with the London Symphony Orchestra he played the Concerto Symphonique for piano and orchestra written that year by Frédéric d'Erlanger, and on 22 August 1922 the Piano Concerto by Alexander Tcherepnin (completed only two years before) at a Queen's Hall Prom.
Although Moiseiwitsch was active in the studio at this time many of the larger works he recorded were not issued. He recorded Chopin's complete Preludes, Op. 28, three times between November 1921 and April 1924 but it was not until December 1948 that a successful recording was made and published. There were also two unissued recordings of Schumann's Carnaval Op. 9mentioned above whilst Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel Op. 24, was first set down in January 1925, then as an early electric recording in October of the same year, but the published version was not made until March 1930. One major work that did get issued was of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 25, recorded with the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra and Sir Landon Ronald in January 1925. In the 1924-1925 season Moiseiwitsch was playing five concertos, No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23by Tchaikovsky, No. 2 in C minor Op. 18by Rachmaninov, No. 1 in E flat by Liszt, Schumann's Concerto in A minor Op. 54, and Beethoven's No. 5 in E flat, the 'Emperor'. He was not, however, publically performing the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Mendelssohn at this time. Recorded right at the end of the acoustic era these discs became obsolete almost as soon as they were made owing to the vast improvement in sound quality that was obtainable with the introduction of electrical recording a few months later. It should not be dismissed, though, as it shows the youthful energy and vitality of Moiseiwitsch at the height of his early career and some poetic playing in the slow movement. The work was more popular then than it is now and another recording of it was made by Marie Novello for Edison Velvet Face in the same year.
© 2006 Jonathan Summers
RAMEAU: Gavotte et Variations
DAQUIN: Le coucou (Premier livre de pièces de clavecin)
SCARLATTI arr. TAUSIG: Pastorale and Capriccio
SCHUBERT arr. LISZT: Horch! Horch! der Lerch!, S.558 No. 9
WEBER: Perpetuum mobile (from Sonata No. 1 in C, J. 138: Presto)
SCHUMANN: Traumes Wirren (from Fantasiestücke Op. 12)
SCHUMANN arr. LISZT: Frühlingsnacht, S. 568
BRAHMS: Capriccio in B minor, Op. 76 No. 2
DELIBES: Passepied (from Le Roi s'amuse: No. 6: Allegretto)
MOSZKOWSKI: La Jongleuse, Op. 52 No. 4
RUBINSTEIN: Barcarolle in F minor, Op. 30 No. 1
MUSSORGSKY: Gopak (from Sorochinsky Fair)
SCRIABIN: Nocturne for the left hand in D flat, Op. 9 No. 2
PALMGREN: Bird Song
PALMGREN: The Sea
PALMGREN: Finnish Dance, Op. 31 No. 5
LESCHETIZKY: Arabesque en forme d'Etude, Op. 45 No. 1
DEBUSSY: Minstrels (from Préludes Book I)
DEBUSSY: Clair de lune (from Suite bergamasque)
DEBUSSY: Jardins sous la pluie (from Estampes)
RAVEL: Jeux d'eau
MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25
Discographic information has been taken from Benno Moiseiwitsch: An HMV Discography by Bryan Crimp (Appian Publications & Recordings, 1990, Hexham, Northumberland, UK)
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