About this Recording
8.110689 - DELIUS: Piano Concerto / RAVEL: Jeux d'eau (Moiseiwitsch, Vol. 6) (1925-1950)

Great Pianists: Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963), Volume 6

Great Pianists: Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963), Volume 6

debussy • ravel • granados • ibert • poulenc • delius • stravinsky

Benno Moiseiwitsch was born in ‘the cradle of Russian pianism’ Odessa, in 1890. At 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 Leschetizky. At first Leschetizky told the young Benno that he could play better with his feet, but young Benno was undeterred and spent nearly two years in Vienna perfecting his art with the great teacher. His British début was in Reading in 1908 and his international career took him to every corner of the world.

This sixth volume of the recordings of Benno Moiseiwitsch consists of short encore pieces and a rarely heard concerto. Most of the French works presented here had previously been recorded by Moiseiwitsch in the acoustic era, and the time had come to make new recordings of these works by the sonically superior electrical process, as many of the works still featured in Moiseiwitsch’s recitals, either programmed or as encores. Moiseiwitsch had recorded the extracts from Estampes and Suite bergamasque of Debussy and Ravel’s Jeux d’eau during the First World War and by the time he came to re-record them around the time of the Second World War the gramophone could by then accurately reproduce the delicate shades and tones of his playing displayed in these impressionistic works. Whilst Jardins sous la pluie and both Toccatas show his impressive finger technique, it is interesting to note the almost non-romantic way in which he plays the famous Clair de lune with little obvious rubato and a steady pulse.

Moiseiwitsch performed the Granados Spanish Dances in recital at the Queen’s Hall in January 1924 and recorded them in December 1925. For some reason, however, the Spanish Dance in D major was not published at the time, and this is its first release on CD. In the same Queen’s Hall recital the programme also included a first performance of Poema Tragica by the Australian composer Roy Agnew and Menuet antique from Debussy’s Suite bergamasque.

The Etude in F sharp by Stravinsky was one of Moiseiwitsch’s favourite encores. He had previously recorded it in December 1917 but this was never published (all the more regrettable omission as it was to be coupled with Rosenthal’s Etude in Thirds, an arrangement of Chopin’s Minute Waltz). He played it throughout his career and was still playing it in 1958 as an encore to a concert in New York.

Selim Palmgren (1878-1951) was a Finnish composer and pianist who had studied with Conrad Ansorge and Busoni. Extensive tours from 1912 took him to America where he became a teacher of composition at the Eastman Rochester School in New York. Although he composed some large-scale works including operas, his main output was of short piano pieces. During the first half of the twentieth century his works were popular and were performed and recorded by Myra Hess and Eileen Joyce, as well as Moiseiwitsch, who had recorded The Swan, Op.28, No.5, at the same session as the unpublished Granados piece; The Swan also remained unissued. Birdsong, Op.17, No.19, and The Sea, Op.17, No.12, were recorded and published in 1918 and in a recital of September 1924 at the Queen’s Hall he played Birdsong and two other works designated ‘new’, Dream of Spring and Berceuse pour les cœurs blessés. The finale to the recital was the Strauss-Godowsky paraphrase on Die Fledermaus. The recording of this work made four years later is one of Moiseiwitsch’s best. The attributes needed to perform this kind of work Moiseiwitsch had in abundance, charm, elegance, wit, and an understanding of style combined with a technique of which the listener is never conscious.

On 25th September 1926 at the Wigmore Hall Moiseiwitsch gave the first London performance of two of Three Chinese Pieces by Abram Chasins that had been published in 1925 (the first, A Shanghai Tragedy, was less popular). Only five days later on 30th September Moiseiwitsch gave another lengthy Wigmore Hall recital programming Palmgren’s Rococo, La vida breve by De Falla, his favourite Stravinsky Etude and two first performances in England, again of ‘new’ works: Il neige by Henrique Oswald and Polichinelle by Villa-Lobos.

Another of Moiseiwitsch’s favourite encores was the Toccatina by John Vallier (1920-1991). Vallier had studied piano with his mother Adela Verne, herself a pupil of Paderewski, and his aunt Mathilde Verne, a pupil of Clara Schumann. After life as a child prodigy he became a composer and musicologist.

Most of the works presented here were, to Moiseiwitsch, contemporary, and had been written during his lifetime. Although thought of as new and modern, some of these compositions may seem today to be rather tonal and old fashioned, even for their time. Moiseiwitsch’s programmes from the 1920s are dotted with contemporary compositions, some of which may never have been heard since, such as Filèmes près de Carantec, No.5 from En Bretagne by René Baton, described as "an Allegro Moderato in 12/8 measure apparently inspired by pleasant recollections". Moiseiwitsch also played the ‘modern’ Russians, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Medtner, Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. Another work he championed was the Piano Concerto of Delius. Before a broadcast performance of this work in May 1959 from the Festival Hall in London he commented on the work in an interview.

"I’ve been playing it on and off for the last thirty or forty years and always loved it. But I’ve sort of played it every four or five years, and this time I was never so enthusiastic, it gives me such a tremendous emotional kick. And I felt like shouting from the housetops that everybody must listen and I am annoyed that they do not have the Delius Concerto at least once a year. They have to wait until he is 25 years dead and now I suppose they’ll have to wait another 25 years before they play it again. It’s one of the most beautiful modern concertos — the wealth of colour, the wealth of emotion, poetry…..I don’t know of any modern work, and I’ve told the same thing to my friends Rachmaninov and Medtner, and they were surprised because they did not know the Concerto. But just now, I’m much more in it than ever before. It’s an English work and I’m ashamed that in England it is not played more than every four or five years. In America, my recordings have been a tremendous success, I tried to play it there but of course to them it is still an English work and has no money value, but here, that it should be neglected is a crying shame."

© Jonathan Summers

Ward Marston

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.

Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.

In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.

Producer’s Note

All of Benno Moiseiwitsch’s 78rpm discs were recorded in England and released on HMV’s domestic series. Because of the pianist’s immense popularity in Australia and America, some of his records were also issued by Australian HMV and American Victor, both of whom produced superior pressings to those manufactured in England. For the past twenty-five years, I have been on the lookout for such pressings and have used them in this series of compact discs wherever possible. Sadly however, many of Moiseiwitsch’s records were only issued in England and must be transferred, therefore, from noisy pressings. For this volume, I was fortunate in locating Australian pressings of Delius’s Piano Concerto and Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. Additionally, I was able to transfer Godowsky’s Die Fledermaus Paraphrase from an excellent American Victor pressing. The remaining selections were all transferred from multiple copies of English pressings.

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