Irene Scharrer’s first piano teacher was her mother who had been a pupil of English pedagogue Tobias Matthay. Daughter Irene played for Matthay when she was six, and at the age of twelve she won a scholarship to study with him at the Royal Academy of Music in London. At her first Royal Academy student concert in 1901 Scharrer played Chopin’s Rondo in E flat Op. 16 ‘…with wonderful finish and very remarkable technical skill’.
Whilst still a student, Scharrer gave duo piano performances with her contemporary Myra Hess and in 1904 they performed Weber’s Aufforderung zum Tanz arranged for two pianos by Corder. They continued to perform on two pianos throughout both their careers, and Scharrer’s final performance was one of these duo recitals. It should be noted here that Scharrer and Hess were not cousins as is often erroneously stated.
Scharrer made her London solo debut at the age of sixteen at the Wigmore (then Bechstein) Hall where her programme included Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35. As one critic wrote, ‘Miss Scharrer has but little to learn.’ In the same year she made her debut at the Proms with conductor Henry Wood upon whom she had called unannounced, waiting until he would hear her play. In 1914 she performed Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B flat minor Op. 23 with Landon Ronald at one concert at the Queen’s Hall in London where a critic noted, ‘The pianist has that concert experience which makes a mistake or a misunderstanding a practical impossibility, and gives a complete sense of security.’ Concerts followed in Europe where she played with Hans Richter and Arthur Nikisch in Leipzig and Berlin. Early in her career Scharrer also toured, performing in Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Scandinavia and the United States; but, after she married S. Gurney Lubbock in 1915, her family took precedence over her career.
Scharrer was a virtuoso pianist who was most at home in the works of nineteenth-century composers such as Liszt, Schumann and Chopin. Her technical facility was shown to great effect in Chopin’s études which she performed a great deal.
A pioneer of the gramophone, Scharrer made her first recordings in 1909 for the Gramophone Company. Discs made before World War I include some excellent Chopin études, an impressive ‘Bee’s Wedding’, and an early recording of a work for piano and orchestra – Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy. This is just the sort of music that suited the young Scharrer and she plays it with panache and flair. There are also two excellent Scarlatti sonatas and a curiosity no doubt prompted by World War I: Five Variations on It’s a long way to Tipperary by Arthur M. Goodhart, where Scharrer has selected five variations from the two sets, the fourth variation from the second set being dedicated to her and obviously modelled on Chopin’s Prélude in F sharp minor Op. 28 No. 8. Liszt’s Gnomenreigen has her rather out of breath but the Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1 by Chopin is delivered with majesty and poise. During the mid-1920s Scharrer recorded some early keyboard works by Scarlatti, Purcell and Boyce; and unusually for the time there is also a complete piano sonata by Mozart, K. 283 in G major.
Around 1929 Scharrer switched to Columbia, re-recording a fair amount of the repertoire she had recorded for HMV, making her last discs in the mid-1930s. Most of the Columbias are extremely impressive and in far better sound than the early HMV discs. There is a Rigoletto Paraphrase by Liszt played with striking virtuosity and technical panache; the Andante and Rondo Capriccioso by Mendelssohn holds no problems for her; and the Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 31 by Chopin, and quite a few of the études, are played with ease. Scharrer’s most famous disc is one of the last she made and is of the Scherzo by Litolff from his Concerto Symphonique No. 4 Op. 102. It was Scharrer who made this piece a popular favourite with her recording: the work was later taken up by Moura Lympany and also recorded by Shura Cherkassky.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist