About this Recording
8.111115 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 8, 14 and 21 (Moiseiwitsch, Vol. 9) (1927-1950)

Great Pianists: Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963), Volume 9
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 8, 14 and 21


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 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 master. His British début was in Reading in 1908 and his international career took him to every corner of the world.

Moiseiwitsch worked hard during the Second World War constantly touring Britain and raising money for Lady Churchill's Aid to Russia Fund and the Red Cross. An example of his work-load and repertoire can be gained from noting that in December 1941 he played Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, on the 6th in Brighton, on the 7th he played Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto, Op. 73, in London, Rachmaninov's Third Concerto again on the 13th in London, a solo recital in Hull on the 14th, and on the 17th Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio, Op. 50, and Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata, Op. 19. Saturday 20 December had him playing Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, Op. 43, with Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at London's Albert Hall. The following afternoon he was in Preston with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Herbert Menges playing the 'Emperor' again. On Christmas Day 1941 he gave a recital for the BBC which was broadcast from the Paris Cinema in London.

Two months earlier, on 7 September 1941, Moiseiwitsch played Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18, and Brahms's Variations on a theme of Paganini, Op. 35, in Malvern. A week later, on 14 September at De Montfort Hall in Leicester he gave a Sunday afternoon concert where he played the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, by Grieg and Brahms's Paganini Variations again. In between these appearances Moiseiwitsch went to the HMV studios at Abbey Road in London where on 11 September he recorded Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 'Pathétique'. It appears to have been an easy session – all four of the 78 rpm sides were issued from first takes although second takes of parts 1, 2 and 4 were made and held in reserve in case of technical problems with the production of the discs. This is an exceptionally fine performance of the 'Pathétique' sonata with Moiseiwitsch's full tone at the beginning being faithfully captured by the engineers. The tempo of the Allegro di molto e con brio is urgent and fast while Moiseiwitsch's sublime tonal qualities can be heard to full advantage in the Adagio which never degenerates into sentimentality.

A few days later on 16 September 1941 Moiseiwitsch gave a recital at the Winter Gardens Pavilion in Weston-super-Mare where he played the Beethoven sonata he had just recorded for HMV as well as the composer's Andante favori. He performed both of these works for the BBC on 3rd October, played Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, with Leslie Heward and the Royal Philharmonic the next afternoon and repeated his Weston-super-Mare programme at Eastbourne on the day after that. The next day he was back at HMV's Studio No. 3 in Abbey Road to record Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2, 'Moonlight'. Again, this is a superlative performance of depth and understanding, the first movement's melody heard in high relief, the second movement played with charming simplicity and the third with ferocious power and speed. Of this recording the critic of the Gramophone wrote, 'Moiseiwitsch has surely never made such a good recording as this. He puts a remarkable amount of colour into the first movement, which he takes very slowly…. The pianist gives grace and a certain wit to the Scherzo and perhaps a rather disproportionate amount of weight to the Trio. A most interesting reading. If the first movement is taken more slowly than usual the last movement certainly goes more quickly. It rushes along excitedly, dramatically, and, having regard to its opening tune, explosively. Moiseiwitsch's fine sense of rhythm prevents incoherence and nothing is scamped though the pace is so hot.'

On 11 October 1941 Moiseiwitsch played both the 'Pathétique' and 'Moonlight' Sonatas at Rushworth Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool as well as works by Chopin, Rachmaninov, Debussy and Brahms. The following day he returned to HMV's studio to record part 3 of the Moonlight Sonata again, but the side was released from the first take. Two days after that Moiseiwitsch played Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, and Paderewski's Polish Fantasy for piano and orchestra, Op. 19, at London's Cambridge Theatre at a memorial concert for Paderewski, who had died at the end of June 1941.

In January 1942 Moiseiwitsch ventured to Belfast for two different recital programmes at University Hall in one day. During the rest of the month he performed in Dublin, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Grimsby, Halifax, Tunbridge Wells and London, often playing on consecutive nights. Repertoire included the Suite Fantastique for piano and orchestra by Ernest Schelling (1876-1939) which he performed on President Roosevelt's birthday and on 7 February in Liverpool he played Beethoven's third, fourth and fifth piano concertos in one concert.

Between a recital on 12 February 1942 and one at the Dome in Brighton on the 21st Moiseiwitsch had a break from performing, but went to the recording studio on 20 February where he set down Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 53, 'Waldstein' for HMV. Again, it was a straightforward session with all five sides issued from first takes with second takes being held in reserve. At the Brighton concert the following day he played Beethoven's 'Pathétique' and 'Moonlight' Sonatas and on 25 February played the 'Waldstein' Sonata in a recital at Leeds Town Hall. Moiseiwitsch was constantly on tour for the next few months and was not able to return to the studio until the middle of June when he recorded a fill-up for the sixth side of the 'Waldstein' set of discs. The work was Beethoven's Rondo in C major, Op. 51 No. 1. The recordings of the 'Pathétique' and 'Moonlight' sonatas are some of the most satisfying versions on disc and one can only regret that Moiseiwitsch was not asked to record more Beethoven. The only other works recorded for HMV were the Third and Fifth Piano Concertos (Naxos 8.110776) and the Kreutzer Sonata with Jascha Heifetz. At the end of his career three LPs were made for American Decca for which Moiseiwitsch recorded the 'Moonlight' Sonata again, but also the Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 81a, 'Les Adieux'.

At a recording session on 25 October 1950 Moiseiwitsch recorded Beethoven's Andante Favori, Prokofiev's Suggestion Diabolique and Weber's Perpetuum mobile. The Weber is included here by way of an encore to the Beethoven programme as is the arrangement of Scarlatti by Carl Tausig recorded in 1927. It was Moiseiwitsch's second recording of the work; he made his first of it in June 1919.

© 2006 Jonathan Summers





BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, ‘Pathétique’
Recorded 11 September 1941 in Studio No. 3, Abbey Road
Matrices 2EA 9466-69; Catalogue C 3246-47

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, ‘Moonlight’
Recorded 6 October 1941 in Studio No. 3, Abbey Road
Matrices 2EA 9484-86; Catalogue C 3259-60

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, ‘Waldstein’
Recorded 20 February 1942 in Studio No. 3, Abbey Road
Matrices 2EA 9852-56; Catalogue C 3289-91

BEETHOVEN: Andante in F major, WoO (Andante favori)
Recorded 25 October 1950 in Studio No. 3, Abbey Road
Matrices 2EA 1516-17; Catalogue C 4099

BEETHOVEN: Rondo in C major, Op. 51, No. 1
Recorded 15 June 1942 in Studio No. 3, Abbey Road
Matrix 2EA 9878; Catalogue C 3291

D. SCARLATTI arr. TAUSIG: Pastorale in E minor* and Capriccio in E major**
arr. from *Sonata in D minor, K.9 (L.413) and **Sonata in E major, K.20 (L.375)
Recorded 21 February 1927, Studio C, Queen’s Small Hall
Matrices Bb 9946-47; Catalogue E 528

WEBER: Sonata No. 1 in C major, J. 138, IV. Rondo (Perpetuum mobile)
Recorded 25 October 1950 in Studio No. 3, Abbey Road
Matrix 2EA 15161; Catalogue C 4101



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