Daughter of an Austrian father and Italian mother, Gina Bachauer was born in Greece where her family had settled in the 1870s. She studied at the Athens Conservatory with Woldemar Freeman, but only part-time as her father believed success in the music world impossible for a woman. She studied law at Athens University for two years, but her progress at the piano was such that her father allowed her, as a teenager, to go to Paris to study at the École Normale de Musique with Alfred Cortot. After making her Paris debut in 1929 she had some lessons with Sergei Rachmaninov (a friend of Freeman) with whom she studied intermittently during the early 1930s. A year after her 1932 debut in London she won a medal at the International Competition in Vienna and went on to make her orchestral debut in Athens in 1935, playing the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23 by Tchaikovsky under Dimitri Mitropoulos. Bachauer toured Europe and played in Egypt, where she met and married John Christodoulou in 1936, living in Alexandria. Her career was interrupted by World War II, though she gave more than six hundred concerts for the troops in Northern Africa during this time.
After the war Christodoulou died, leaving little support for his young wife as all their money had been invested in Greek government bonds. Bachauer was fortunate in being taken to London by movie producer Gabriel Pascal as a consultant on his film Caesar and Cleopatra, and there she had the opportunity of auditioning for conductor Alec Sherman, who engaged her to play with his New London Orchestra. She made her orchestral debut in London in 1946 at the Royal Albert Hall with Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16. After her successful debut in the USA, where she gave a recital at New York’s Town Hall, she received wonderful reviews, the New York Herald Tribune referring to her as ‘…a truly phenomenal pianist having few peers among pianists of either sex’. Successful tours of Europe, the Americas, New Zealand, Australia and the Orient followed, and in 1951 Bachauer married Alec Sherman, who then gave up his own career as a conductor to manage his wife’s career. They lived in London but Bachauer toured most of the time, visiting the USA regularly. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Utah and, after her death, an international piano competition bearing her name was founded in Salt Lake City.
Bachauer was a strong, powerful player with a formidable technique. She was often compared to Teresa Carreño (1853–1917), and a 1955 description of her shows the attitude of the time. ‘Her technique shows a decidedly masculine approach, and unlike other famous woman pianists she is very much at home with works usually regarded as the prerogative of the “stronger” sex.’ Rachmaninov instilled into Bachauer his idea that music was ‘sound and colour’ and it is her range of both that makes her playing so distinctive. Extremely self-critical, Bachauer was always working, listening and improving her interpretations.
Bachauer’s repertoire covered practically everything from Couperin to Stravinsky. Her own favourites were virtuoso works, including Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, Brahms’s Variations on a theme of Paganini Op. 35, and Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. Her concerto repertoire included Brahms’s No. 2, both of Chopin’s, Saint-Saëns’s No. 2, Rachmaninov’s Nos 2 and 3, and Beethoven’s Nos 4 and 5. In 1960 she played the Piano Concerto by Arthur Bliss with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Dimitri Mitropoulos at Carnegie Hall.
At the end of the 78rpm era HMV had recorded her in Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Concerto K. 537 and Busoni’s arrangement of Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole with Sherman and the New London Orchestra. These works and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in a revision by Saint-Saëns appeared on 78rpm discs and, later, on ten-inch LPs. Other HMV LP issues include two more Mozart concertos, Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor, a classic performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit made in 1954, and Bachauer’s recording of Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 22 made the following year with her husband Sherman and the New London Orchestra.
During the early 1960s Bachauer recorded for Mercury, and the 1964 recording of her Gaspard de la nuit, with Mercury’s superlative sound, includes a reading by John Gielgud of the Bertrand poems that inspired the compositions. On the same compact disc is some Debussy and Bachauer’s recording of Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka, which is brimming with energy, especially in the last movement. Other highlights from the Mercury catalogue include Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Op. 83 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major Op. 58 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Antal Dorati. In the early 1970s Bachauer recorded the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18 by her mentor Rachmaninov with the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra and Alain Lombard for Erato. This is a big, fine, virile performance and it is complemented by three of the composer’s préludes.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist