About this Recording
8.111118 - CHOPIN: 24 Preludes / Ballades / Fantaisie-Impromptu (Moiseiwitsch, Vol. 12) (1938-1952)

Great Pianists: Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963)
Chopin Recordings • 2 (1938-1952)


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.

Continuing this series of Moiseiwitsch’s recordings of Chopin, this volume contains the complete Préludes, Op. 28, and the Four Ballades, with the Fantaisie- Impromptu, Op. 66, as an encore. Moiseiwitsch recorded the Prélude in C minor, Op. 28, No. 20, at one of his very early sessions in 1918 (Naxos 8.111117). Three years later he attempted to record the complete Préludes in two sessions during November and December of 1921. During that year Moiseiwitsch was programming the Piano Sonatas in B flat minor, Op. 35, and B minor, Op. 58, of Chopin and did not play the complete Préludes in public until 3 December. In between the two recording sessions he found time to play the Piano Concerto by Baron François d’Erlanger (1872-1932) at the Queen’s Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra. In fact, although he programmed the four Ballades together, Moiseiwitsch preferred to play the Piano Sonatas or a group of short pieces, rarely performing the 24 Préludes in their entirety, preferring to choose a half dozen or so. Moiseiwitsch had a great deal of stamina, however, and did occasionally programme the complete Préludes at this time. At a Queen’s Hall Chopin recital in April 1924 he played both the mature Piano Sonatas, the F minor Fantaisie, Op. 49, and the complete 24 Préludes, Op. 28. ‘Many of the Préludes were beautifully done, especially those where the mood is grave or melancholy, but not one of them presented a technical problem which was not solved with ease.’

None of the sides from the 1921 sessions were issued. In May of the following year he recorded Préludes Nos. 1-6 and 16-20; again nothing was issued and two months later Moiseiwitsch tried just the side containing Préludes Nos. 4-6. What the reason was for the high number of unproductive sessions could be either the artist’s dissatisfaction with the result, or some problem due to the mechanical process of recording. These sessions were made with the acoustic process of recording and the Préludes contain a wide range of dynamics within a few consecutive pieces. A session on the 10 October 1922 was devoted again to just the one side of Préludes Nos. 4-6, by which time Moiseiwitsch had attempted to record it ten times. Eighteen months later another attempt was made at recording the whole set of 24 Préludes. Nothing was issued, and this may be because even though a successful recording may have at last been obtained, at the time of April 1924 the acoustic process was about to be quickly superseded by the new electrical process of recording.

It was not until nearly 25 years later, in December 1948, that Moiseiwitsch attempted to record the complete Préludes of Chopin again. They featured in the fourth of the five different recital programmes he prepared for his Australian tour of 1948 - Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata, Op. 35, two Impromptus, the B minor Scherzo, Op. 20, Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, a Nocturne and a Waltz, and the 24 Préludes, Op. 28.

Two sessions were held at Abbey Road Studio No. 3 between Christmas and the New Year. Apparently, the HMV recording ledgers indicate that the whole set of Préludes was recorded on one day, the 29 December 1948, but Moiseiwitsch’s test pressings are dated the 29 December (Préludes Nos. 1-15) and 30 December (Nos. 16-24). Moiseiwitsch recorded two takes of each side. On two previous CD releases of this recording, however, there has been some confusion over the takes used for publication and the dates on which they were recorded. In the case of side 6 (Préludes Nos. 16-18) and side 8 (Préludes Nos. 22-24), it would appear that Moiseiwitsch was not happy with these as he returned to the studio on the 20 September 1949 to record them again and it is from this session that sides 6 (take 3) and side 8 (take 4) were published. Confirmation of this can be found in HMV’s Advised January 1950 List (which also states that take 2 of side 4 was published) and further confirmed by the fact that in September 1949, the month in which Moiseiwitsch was recording again sides 6 and 8, Gramophone magazine reviewed only the first two discs of the Préludes (sides 1-4) which had been issued then, eagerly anticipating the release of the remaining discs.

The recording is one of the most satisfactory of the complete Préludes on disc, as Moiseiwitsch captures perfectly the mood of each of these miniature masterpieces. The slower preludes in particular show Moiseiwitsch’s understanding of musical phrasing linked to harmonic progressions. In combination with his ideal projection of the singing line, this gives the impression that the music is a living and breathing entity. In the faster preludes, particularly No. 16 and No. 24, Moiseiwitsch never loses control of tempo or dynamics and the ornaments and figuration of the last Prélude become part of the organic whole.

Moiseiwitsch recorded Chopin’s First and Third Ballades in September 1938. It was his first recording of the popular Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, and he returned in March 1939 to make retakes of the second sides of both Ballades which became the issued versions. He had previously recorded the Third Ballade in October 1926 and January 1927, along with the Second Ballade, but these recordings were never issued. He tried the pair again in February 1927, but only the Third Ballade was issued from this session (this earlier version can be heard on Naxos 8.111117). The first release of a recording by Moiseiwitsch of Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38, was from a session in August 1947. It was at this session that he made his only 78rpm recording of the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, making three takes of each side, the third of each being held in reserve for possible release. This never happened, however, and in 1956 Moiseiwitsch made a new recording on tape, for release on LP. The earlier version heard here comes from a test pressing of the 1947 session. Another popular work of Chopin that Moiseiwitsch played a great deal was the Fantaisie- Impromptu, Op. 66. Like the G minor Ballade, however, he did not record it until later in his career, in this case, not until 1952.

© 2007 Jonathan Summers



Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849): 24 Préludes, Op. 28
No. 1 in C Agitato
No. 2 in A minor Lento
No. 3 in G Vivace
Recorded 29 December 1948
Mat. 2EA 13517-1; Cat. C 3905

No. 4 in E minor Largo
No. 5 in D Allegro molto
No. 6 in B minor Lento assai
Recorded 29 December 1948
Mat. 2EA 13518-1; Cat. C 3905

No. 7 in A Andantino
No. 8 in F sharp minor Molto agitato
No. 9 in E Largo
No. 10 in C sharp minor Allegro molto
Recorded 29 December 1948
Mat. 2EA 13519-1; Cat. C 3906

No. 11 in B Vivace
No. 12 in G sharp minor Presto
No. 13 in F sharp Lento
No. 14 in E flat minor Allegro
Recorded 29 December 1948
Mat. 2EA 13520-2; Cat. C 3906

No. 15 in D flat Sostenuto
Recorded 29 December 1948
Mat. 2EA 13521-1; Cat. C 3907

No. 16 in B flat minor Presto con fuoco
No. 17 in A flat Allegretto
No. 18 in F minor Allegro molto
No. 19 in E flat Vivace
Recorded 20 September 1949
Mat. 2EA 13522-3; Cat. C 3907

No. 20 in C minor Largo
No. 21 in B flat Cantabile
No. 22 in G minor Molto agitato
Recorded 30 December 1948
Mat. 2EA 13523-1; Cat. C 3908

No. 23 in F Moderato
No. 24 in D minor Allegro appassionato
Recorded 20 September 1949
Mat. 2EA 13524-4; Cat. C 3908

Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Recorded 23 September 1938 and 17 March 1939
Mats. 2EA 6725-1 and 2EA 6726-6; Cat. C 3101

Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38
Recorded 22 August 1947
Mats. 2EA 12308-2 and 2EA 12309-2; Cat. C 3685

Ballade No. 3 in A flat, Op. 47
Recorded 23 September 1938 and 17 March 1939
Mats. 2EA 6727-1 and 2EA 6728-3; Cat. C 3100

Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
Recorded 22 August 1947
Mats. 2EA 12036-3 and 2EA 12037-3
(unpublished on 78rpm)

in C sharp minor, Op. 66
Recorded 11 January 1952
Mat. 2EA 16223-5; Cat. C 4184
All tracks were recorded in Studio 3,
Abbey Road, London

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Ward Marston
Special thanks to Donald Manildi

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