Frederic Lamond, who came from an impoverished family, had his first lessons in music from his brother David; nevertheless at the age of fourteen he managed to make his way to Frankfurt where he enrolled at the Raff Conservatory, receiving piano lessons from Max Schwarz. He then became a pupil of Hans von Bülow, who suggested he continue his studies with Liszt. For the last two years of the composer’s life therefore, from 1885, Lamond became a pupil of Liszt. His Berlin debut took place on 17 November 1885, and after debuts in Vienna and Glasgow he made his London debut in a series of recitals. At the fourth of these, given in St James’s Hall on 15 April 1886, Liszt was in the audience. In 1888 Lamond played in St Petersburg and was introduced to Anton Rubinstein, who attended his second recital there.
He continued his career mainly in Germany but played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at London’s Crystal Palace in 1890 where his own Symphony in A major Op. 3 was also performed. For the Royal Philharmonic Society he played Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 23 in 1891, and in 1896 toured Russia, returning to London in 1897. From 1904, when he married actress Irene Triesch, he resided in Berlin except during the years of World War I. Lamond visited the United States once in 1902, but during the 1920s made frequent tours there, being appointed professor at the Eastman School of Music in 1923. In 1917 he was appointed professor at The Hague Conservatory, whilst during the 1930s he performed cycles of Beethoven sonatas in many European capitals including Berlin. In 1935 Lamond toured South America, and a year later celebrated his Golden Jubilee in several European capitals by giving a series of seven recitals, like Anton Rubinstein before him, covering the entire output written for the keyboard from Byrd to Liszt. As war approached, he and his wife fled the Nazi regime, leaving most of their possessions behind, but taking their grandson to Switzerland.
Although Lamond had spent most of his life in Germany, he had retained his British nationality. He was now in his seventies and, with little money, had to earn a living. In 1940 he went to Glasgow where he gave piano lessons at the Glasgow Academy of Music and even on an old upright piano in a music shop. In addition to his teaching he also performed, giving concerts during World War II in Scotland, Bath and London including a few at the Wigmore Hall in 1945, where he was billed as ‘Lamond – the greatest living exponent of Beethoven’. Another source of income was the nineteen broadcasts he gave for the BBC during the war. It was nonetheless a sad end to the career and life of a remarkable pianist who had known such great figures as Liszt, Anton Rubinstein, Richard Strauss and Brahms.
Apart from a session for Decca in 1941 from which only two sides were issued, all Lamond’s discs were made for HMV. The bulk of his recordings were of Liszt and Beethoven and his best Liszt disc is the Tarantelle di bravura from Auber’s La Muette de Portici. Recorded in 1929 when Lamond was 61, it is a conception of Liszt in the grand style. Although it is an extrovert, virtuosic piece, Lamond gives it a reading of nobility without noticeable strain. Another Tarantella (from Venezia e Napoli) is also successful, but the more dexterously demanding works such as Gnomenreigen, Feux follets, and Schubert’s Erlkönig show Lamond’s age and failing technique.
Lamond’s affinity with the works of Beethoven was something almost spiritual. ‘I longed for pureness, truth, simplicity. Beethoven was my god – the creed of my life – my one and all. Through continually absorbing his wonderworks I began to regard the practical side of life, that which gives pleasure to the majority of human beings, with repugnance.’ A pamphlet by Lamond on some of Beethoven’s piano works, published in 1944, is headed with the quotation: ‘Haydn is the way to Heaven, Mozart is Heaven itself, and Beethoven is the God therein.’ In 1922 he became the first pianist to record a complete piano concerto, Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’, (unfortunately by the sonically inferior acoustic process) and made acoustic recordings of many of the well-known sonatas including the ‘Moonlight’, ‘Pathétique’, ‘Waldstein’ and ‘Appassionata’. With the introduction of electrical recording in 1925 he remade all these and added Op. 26, Op. 31 No. 2 and Op. 110. These Beethoven sonata recordings were the staple of the British catalogue until Artur Schnabel recorded the complete sonatas in the 1930s.
Lamond followed his own advice to his students when he said, ‘Try to play in some way of your own, as if you were telling the world for the first time of the wonders of Beethoven. Don’t be a mere pianist, try to reach the higher plane of music.’ The overall impression is of a ruggedness and gritty determination that ideally suits Beethoven. Perhaps the most representative recording is that of the ‘Appassionata’ sonata where, to modern ears, Lamond’s tempos may sound fast, particularly in the Andante. In the finale he plays as if his life depends on it. A similar style is heard in the other sonatas, but Op. 110 does not have the depth of spirituality that Schnabel can bring to it.
When these Beethoven recordings were issued on compact disc in 1998 Jeremy Nicholas said, ‘This is a great pianist’s mature view of the composer whom he idolised above all others, and these recordings provide not only a meaty musical meal but more food for thought than many a post-Schnabel Beethovenian.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).