Lubka Kolessa came from a very musical family which boasted composers, a cellist and an ethnomusicologist among its members. She received her first piano lessons from her grandmother who had studied with Karl Mikuli, a pupil of Chopin. When young Lubka was four years old, the family moved to Vienna and it was there that she received her musical training from Louis Thern and Emil von Sauer. At thirteen she won the Bösendorfer Prize and two years later was already giving many concerts. She graduated from the Vienna State Academy at the age of eighteen and some ten years later also studied with Eugen d’Albert.
Between the wars, Kolessa performed throughout Europe and worked with the greatest conductors of the time including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Richard Strauss, Willem Mengelberg, Erich Kleiber and Hermann Abendroth; in the 1937 season she gave 178 concerts and appeared on television in England. The outbreak of World War II caused Kolessa to move to Canada; here she settled with her new husband, and after making her debut in her adopted country, Kolessa joined the teaching faculty of the Toronto Conservatory of Music where she remained for seven years, all the while performing and broadcasting on Canadian radio.
Although Kolessa gave a recital at Town Hall in New York in April 1943 her main debut is usually cited as having taken place at Carnegie Hall in January 1948 when she ‘…turned out to be a pianist of uncommon personality and charm’, playing works by Mozart and Debussy. The following year she made her debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11. At her second Carnegie Hall recital she played the Études Symphoniques Op. 13 by Schumann and sonatas by Mozart and Chopin. Kolessa continued to appear in North America and Canada until 1954 when she decided to give up public performance and spend her time teaching. She taught at various institutions including the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec, the École Vincent d’Indy, the Ukrainian Music Institute in New York and for a period of twelve years at McGill University in Montreal.
Kolessa recorded a few mazurkas and waltzes of Chopin for Ultraphon in the late 1920s, but her main series of recordings was made for Electrola during the late 1930s. She recorded one concerto, No. 3 in C minor Op. 37 by Beethoven with Karl Böhm. The solo recordings include an incisive pair of Scarlatti sonatas, two minor works by Mozart, a buoyant Rondo in E flat by Hummel and Chopin’s Waltz in E flat Op. 18. From a few unissued Electrola sides comes an impressive recording of Schulz Evler’s Arabesques on the Beautiful Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. In the late 1940s Kolessa recorded two LP discs for the Concert Hall label. One is of Schumann: the Études Symphoniques Op. 13 and Toccata Op. 7; the other of Brahms: the Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel Op. 24 and a pair of intermezzi. However, there are also some surviving private recordings and a broadcast from 1936 of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor K. 491. All of these recordings have been issued on compact disc by Doremi, but the engineering of the transfers leaves a lot to be desired with the use of added fake stereo and reverberation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist