Ginzburg’s first piano teacher was his mother, with whom he studied before entering the music school in his home town. His parents took their five-year-old son to play for the great pianist and teacher Alexander Goldenweiser, with whose wife Anna he studied initially; but at the age of twelve he went to Goldenweiser himself and studied with him for eight years, graduating from the Moscow Conservatory with the Gold Medal.
From 1921 Ginzburg worked as a pianist for the Proletarian Cultural and Educational Organisation and three years later was appointed to the staff of the Scriabin Institute. His six years as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory from 1929 led to a full professorship in 1935 which Ginzburg held until his death in 1961. In 1922 Ginzburg made his professional debut with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat by Liszt, a composer with whom he would become most associated throughout his career; and toured Russia, the Ukraine and the Northern Caucasus. Ginzburg was also associated with the music of Chopin and gave his first recital entirely of Chopin in 1926, the following year entering the first Chopin Competition in Warsaw. He received fourth prize (the first prize going to Lev Oborin) and immediately toured Poland. He returned there in 1936 and also played in Switzerland and Sweden. After World War II Ginzburg was giving around 120 concerts a year as well as teaching at the Conservatory; at this time he was awarded the State Prize of the USSR and became an Honoured Art Worker of the RSFSR.
In 1956 Ginzburg decided to give more concerts and teach less. He played in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; but had already suffered mild heart attacks, and the pressure of these final tours, including a projected one of Poland, probably hastened his death at the age of fifty-seven in 1961; it was in this same year that Goldenweiser, who had been born in 1875, a generation before Ginzburg, also died.
A virtuoso pianist whose repertoire was based around Liszt, Ginzburg also ranged from Mozart through to Soviet composers of the day. He excelled in performing operatic paraphrases and transcriptions by Liszt and played the two large works in this genre based on Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro (finished by Busoni) along with many others based on the music of Bellini, Verdi, Gounod and Tchaikovsky. He usually played Bach in arrangements by Busoni and Godowsky, but along with the Russian Romantics he also played Grieg, Chopin and Schumann. His Russian repertoire included Anton Rubinstein, Scriabin, Medtner, Myaskovsky, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev. During his days of study with the Goldenweisers, Ginzburg met many of these composers including Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Medtner.
Ginzburg recorded prolifically for the state label Melodya from the end of World War II until his death. All his recordings are of high quality, showing him to be a pianist of refined taste and style, of delicacy with a clear, pellucid tone, and an ability to perform technically demanding music with ease. This can occasionally lead to a certain lack of drama in performances of such works as Schubert’s Der Erlkönig in the arrangement for piano by Liszt. In the late 1990s the record label Arlecchino produced eleven compact discs of Ginzburg’s Melodya recordings. The first volume contained paraphrases and transcriptions by Grünfeld, Tausig, Schulz-Evler, Friedman, Liszt and Godowsky. It is music that suits Ginzburg, as he is never concerned with displaying his technique and physical prowess. Schulz-Evler’s famous transcription of Johann Strauss’s waltz An der schonen blauen Donau is delivered with a delightful finesse, whist Ginzburg’s own arrangement of the waltz from the opera Casanova by Rózycki is an absolute gem. Other repertoire covered in this series of discs includes the Piano Concerto No. 4 Op. 70 by Anton Rubinstein, Liszt’s Totentanz and Rhapsodie Espagnole both arranged by Busoni, some of Liszt’s rhapsodies, études, operatic paraphrases, Schubert song transcriptions and selections from the Années de pèlerinage. A few recordings of Mozart include the Piano Concerto K. 503 (with Kyrill Kondrashin) where Ginzburg’s articulation and clarity remind one of the current style of Mozart playing.
As well as piano sonatas by Tchaikovsky and Grieg there is a great deal of Chopin including the complete Études Op. 25, the four impromptus, some mazurkas, waltzes, polonaises and the Ballade in F minor. Ginzburg also recorded unusual repertoire by well-known composers: Chopin’s Rondo Op. 1 and some of Schumann’s Études after Paganini Op. 3. Of Russian music there are some Scriabin études, some Medtner and Myaskovsky; but some of the most important recordings of this repertoire are the three works for piano duet and two pianos that Ginzburg recorded with his teacher Alexander Goldenweiser, a man born two years after Rachmaninov and himself the dedicatee of the Suite for Two Pianos Op. 17.
Ginzburg has also appeared on compact disc in the Philips Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century Series and on BMG’s Russian Piano School Series as Volume Twelve. In 2004, to celebrate the centenary of his birth, a series of six compact discs was issued of Ginzburg’s live concerts from 1949 to 1957. The tapes came from Ginzburg’s private archives; they were supervised by his daughter Elizaveta and issued by Vox Aeterna. All are excellent, particularly a concert from the Moscow Conservatory given on Christmas Day 1957.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).