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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, April 2008

We’ve reached volume eleven in Naxos’s exhilarating trawl through Moiseiwitsch’s discography. This one is given over to Chopin recordings made between 1916 and ’27. Ten are acoustic, the last recorded in Hayes in 1922; the electrics begin with the Scherzo in B flat minor which was recorded in December 1925. We live in rich times for admirers of the pianist. Both Naxos and APR have mutually supportive reissue series on their books and the collector can happily select from an array of remasterings. Pearl put out the complete acoustic recordings a number of years ago in their typically rougher transfers – but the two-disc set did have the virtue of being a comprehensive collection (see review).

Moiseiwitsch’s Chopin is replete with an Old School compendium of personalised approaches. The famous desynchronised hands of course and, as I noted in my Pearl review, the somewhat cavalier approach to textual fidelity – at least when seen from a more purist eyrie. The E minor Nocturne has its full complement of Benno-ised embellishments for instance. And he certainly predated Earl Wild in his tinkering with Chopin’s keys – pushing things up higher when the fancy took him, though these things were generally done in good taste, if you allow him the indulgence. The B flat minor Scherzo attests to the fact that even Moiseiwitsch had his splashy days. Those who may remember his performances and recordings at the end of the Second War will know how his playing had suffered after the unremitting demands of wartime performances, flogging up and down the country. But even earlier he could, like any artist, have his bad days. The Scherzo is an unusually error-strewn performance though for this early period. But the Etudes are beautifully accomplished and refined ornaments. We also have the luxury of two performances of the G flat major Waltz – one take was issued on HMV, the other on Victor - and the F Sharp Impromptu where a similar situation pertained to the British and American recordings.

Half the performances in this volume are acoustic and half electric. Some have been remastered and reissued by APR, as well as by Pearl. Naxos’ work is that much more immediate and visceral than APR’s. It’s more open as well, with greater bass and treble definition. APR’s work is attractive but sounds confined and is less recommendable than Naxos’s. Pearl’s comprehensive set includes all the acoustics but obviously not the electric recordings and doesn’t include both acoustic takes of the Waltz and Impromptu. Their steelier work is altogether more astringent and is actually less immediate than the Naxos – to which company I recommend you for this glittering, idiosyncratic, aristocratic and wilfully wonderful selection.

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, October 2007

Here, once more, are riches indeed even when heard through a glass darkly. Ward Marston has done his best with Vol. 11 of Naxos’s invaluable Moiseiwitsch series where the pianist’s legendary magic somehow surfaces through recordings dating from 1916-22 and 1925-27. Moiseiwitsch’s Chopin remains indelibly his own, and if his frequent desynchronisation of the hands, expressive dalliance, the odd clinker and a naught, twinkly delight in tampering with the text (why not sky this phrase or that an octave higher than written, or add an additional spray of double notes or counterpoints if the mood takes you?) are old-fashioned, they are often attributes rather than failings. True, there were days when, overstretched by an unnerving schedule, Moiseiwitsch could sound diffident and workaday, but at his finest he could lighten even the most serious gesture or idea with a nonchalant wit and sparkle. The little B flat Polonaise (a Moiseiwitsch specialty) is spun off with all his charm and virtuosity, and his selection of four Etudes crosses the Rubicon from pragmatism to poetry with a wealth of color, grace, and nuance unknown to all but the finest pianists. The Second Scherzo may bristle with confusions and approximations but it is never less than brilliantly alive and, most generously, there are two performances of both the G flat Waltz and F sharp Impromptu for comparison and enlightenment.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

By the time I first heard Benno Moiseiwitsch he was already in his late fifties, and was regarded on the British concert circuit as a ‘safe pair of hands', and you would hardly go to a concert expecting a display of virtuoso fireworks. Yet return to these Chopin recordings made between 1916 and 1927 and you find a pianist with flair and a very personal approach to the composer. Born in Russia in 1890 and the winner of the prestigious Anton Rubinstein prize at the age of nine, he made his UK debut in 1908, and though he was to make it his base for much of his later life, he was a pianist who enjoyed an international career. With a dearth of pianist talent in his adopted home, he was generally regarded as the country's finest virtuoso, and he was widely regarded as one of the leading interpreters of Chopin, though he proved to be very choosy as to the part of Chopin's output he performed and recorded, the Mazurkas, for instance, seeming to offer him few rewards. The present release includes his very first recording - the Berceuse in D flat - at which time we were in the acoustic era. Indeed the release comes in two sections, those in the heading before the Chopin/Liszt piece being his acoustic 78's with a quantum leap forward to 1925 and the Scherzo in B flat minor. How that changed his performances in general shows in the increased number of colours available, his Etudes standing comparison with any in the catalogue. It is a mixed bag of pieces probably of more interest to Moiseiwitsch fans than the casual buyer, and they will be delighted to finds such superb transfers. There is just one further point of interest in the F sharp minor Impromptu in which we have the version issued in the UK and different to that released at the time in the States. As the excellent programme notes remark ¡§a piano-tuner was obviously not available'.

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