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Rob Cowan
Gramophone, November 2008

Moiseiwitsch can get to the very soul of Chopin’s music

Asked to nominate the best-ever recording of Chopin’s Op 28 Preludes I would be hard pressed to choose between Alfred Cortot’s from 1933 and Benno Moiseiwitsch’s from 1948, both of them deeply appreciative of the intense poetry and quick-fire changes of mood that sit at the very soul of the music. Of the two, Moiseiwitsch’s performance suggests the more equable temperament, as you can hear for yourself from his disarming account of the B flat major Prelude (No 21), played truly cantabile…Ward Marston’s transfer for Naxos delivers a rich, well focused piano sound.

Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, September 2008

Many pianists come to this music with strengths particularly suited to some of the pieces but most definitely not to others. But by bringing his interpretations to the studio relatively late in his career when he was almost 60 years old—though still at his technical peak—Moiseiwitsch offers us the keenest insights of both brain and heart, even though they may well be differently proportioned from one individual Prélude to another. The result is a performance that, while typically refined, is utterly alive, responsive and flexible. Nearly 60 years after it was recorded, it continues to put many later competitors in the shade.

Booklet writer Jonathan Summers chooses probably the most apposite adjective when he observes that this is one of the most satisfactory sets of Préludes overall—not in the schoolmaster’s meaning of “average” but in the literal sense that this is a performance for life that provides complete aesthetic satisfaction.

The recordings of the four Ballades (that of no.4 was never commercially released) come from two different phases of Moiseiwitsch’s career, but one would be hard pressed to notice distinctions in either general artistic approach or, indeed, the quality of the recorded sound as expertly remastered by Ward Marston. Chopin’s eclectic literary inspiration—with stories ranging from the doomed love of a water spirit for a mortal to treasonous shenanigans among the medieval Teutonic Knights of Lithuania—means that the Ballades are more episodic and less purely atmospheric than the Préludes. As such, they pose rather less complex interpretative challenges to performers. Moiseiwitsch offers here, nonetheless, accounts of some subtlety and complete integrity, after which the familiar melodies of the Fantaisie-Impromptu op.66, recorded in the best sound of all, round off a worthwhile disc, the twelfth in Naxos’s fine series that pays tribute to this much loved soloist.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2008

Benno Moiseiwitsch’s 1948 recording of Chopin’s Twenty-four Preludes remains one of the most persuasive performances on disc.

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 was to use it his base for much of his later life. With a dearth of outstanding pianists in his adopted home, he was generally regarded as the country’s leading virtuoso, and widely judged as one of the most informed interpreters of Chopin. In his younger years he had made several attempts to record the complete 24 Preludes, but for unknown reasons they were never published. Though he often played the whole set in concert, he was fifty-eight before he eventually returned to them in the studio, and with some re-recording, they were completed in 1949. Keenly aware of dynamic nuances, he employs mercurial tempos for the fast Preludes, the sixteenth a show a real virtuosity. But I particularly enjoy the way he holds together the shape of the slow Preludes while never overlooking that they need tight rhythmic control if they are to make their maximum impact. He was also to make a number of recordings of the Ballades, though not always with success, the present foursome derived from sessions in 1939 and 1947, the fourth coming from unpublished test pressings. They are very affectionate accounts, maybe just a little lacking in character, though the playing is generally very good. The Fantasie-Impromptu, which rather acts as an encore, was recorded in 1952, the year of his death at the age of 73. Throughout the transfers capture a very realistic piano sound even by today’s standards.

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