About this Recording
8.110770 - CHOPIN, F.: Barcarolle / Nocturnes Nos. 2, 19 / Scherzos Nos. 1, 3, 4 (Moiseiwitsch, Vol. 13) (1939-1952)

Great Pianists: Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890–1963), Volume 13


Benno Moiseiwitsch was born in ‘the cradle of Russian pianism’ Odessa, in 1890. At the age of 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 Theodore Leschetizky. At first Leschetizky told young Benno that he could play better with his feet, but Benno was undeterred and spent nearly two years in Vienna perfecting his art with the great master. His British début was in Reading in 1908 and his London début took place two years later. From 1919 he toured Europe and the United States regularly and had an international career that took him to every corner of the world.

This third volume of Moiseiwitsch’s Chopin recordings covers the period of his career from the start of the Second World War until the demise of the 78rpm disc in the early 1950s. During the Second World War Moiseiwitsch constantly toured Britain helping to boost the morale of the artistically dispirited public. He gave tirelessly of his time and although already in his early fifties, undertook arduous performance schedules. A typical example is February 1941 when he gave nineteen concerts in twenty-two days. At this time Moiseiwitsch was on tour with the London Symphony Orchestra and in the first week he played Rachmaninov’s First and Second Piano Concertos at one concert in Liverpool, the Second Concerto in Watford, a recital in Cambridge and Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody in one Saturday afternoon concert in Liverpool a week after he had played the first two concertos there. On the 10th he played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in Sunderland and then gave consecutive performances of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 from the 11th to the 13th in Newcastle, Hull and Barnsley. During the final two weeks of the month Moiseiwitsch gave recitals in Oxford and Tunbridge Wells and appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra playing two different concertos each on the 17, 20 and 21 February.

It was on 17 March 1939 that Moiseiwitsch recorded one of his most famous discs, the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream arranged for solo piano by Rachmaninov. He tells the story that there was remaining time at the end of a recording session so he sat down at the piano in his shirtsleeves and played the Scherzo through once. It was the best he had ever played it and the recording was published. (It appears as an appendix here as it has not been possible to fit it onto any of the other compact discs in the series.) However, directly after making that exceptional disc, Moiseiwitsch made his first recording of Chopin’s Barcarolle, Op. 60—one take of each side—and this was the last work recorded at this session. (As an interesting aside, there is an unknown and unpublished recording made by HMV on the 31 August 1945 at the Friends Meeting House where Moiseiwitsch recorded the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream again, but this time in a version for piano and orchestra with George Weldon and the Philharmonia Symphony Orchestra.) The recording of the Barcarolle was not released and Moiseiwitsch attempted it again two years later in 1941 and this was released. Both versions are presented here, the earlier version seems more free, intimate and conversational, the later one bolder and stronger.

Moiseiwitsch had recorded the Polonaise in B flat, Op. 71, No. 2 (8.111117), a favourite of his teacher Leschetizky, in 1927. This later recording from 1943 is rather wistful with the martial elements of the Polonaise style underplayed. As always though, Moiseiwitsch plays with impeccable taste, style and elegance.

When Moiseiwitsch made his first recording of the Nocturne in E minor Op. 72, No. 1, it was by the old acoustic process in 1922 (8.111117) but thirty years later, by January 1952, HMV were recording simultaneously on wax and tape for release on both 78rpm and LP vinyl discs. The pianist’s exquisite singing tone is perfectly captured and he creates a powerful and impassioned climax to the work.

One of Moiseiwitsch’s first electrical recordings, made in December 1925, was of the Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31, but it was not until September 1949 that he recorded Chopin’s First and Third Scherzos. Both of these recordings from this session were issued and a week later he returned to the studio to record the Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Op. 54. Quite why the second Scherzo was not recorded again at this time to complete the set of four is not clear and it was not until December 1958 that he recorded it for a Chopin recital issued on a stereo LP.

© 2010 Jonathan Summers

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