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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, November 2010

In addition to their big box of the A–Z of Pianists, which was an impressive document and afforded real biographical bite, Naxos has long been active in the field of the restoration of piano recordings. Some, such as their Moiseiwitsch and Cortot series, seem to develop semi-bewildering sub-titles as they develop. Others are more in the way of one-offs. Currently they are investigating Gilels and Michelangeli, amongst others. Here they turn back the clock to recordings made between 1901 and 1924. There is a kind of binary function at play here—broadly the ‘Chopin-Schumann axis and the Liszt/Leschetizky group’ as Naxos describe it.

Thus we have a disparate group of composer-pianists, followed by specialists, some of whom composed—and some, like Lamond, on wide canvasses. Saint-Saëns was a finger technician of the utmost clarity and brilliance. The verve and dynamism of his playing is spellbinding and scintillating. Naxos has opted for the 1919 recordings in preference to the discs he made in the very first years of the century. Nevertheless despite his increasing age there’s no let-up in the brilliance of his articulation. Grieg’s May 1903 recordings were waxed on a single day and are all of his own music. Subtlety and clarity inform his playing which is strongly characterised, digitally pretty well immaculate and of tremendous strength. Though he had not long to live, these sides attest to his still powerful technique and an unsentimental command .He was known for his dislike of showy rubati and he demonstrates how well he practised what he wrote. We hear two of the nine sides he left. Chaminade is, as ever, free and lovely, seemingly unperturbed by the studio. I was especially glad to see that d’Indy and Granados have been included. One hears more of the latter’s piano rolls, perhaps, these days but his disc recordings offer immeasurably the more authentic experience and attest to the marvellously evocative playing of his own music—as well as Scarlatti-Granados Sonata; all three sides recorded in Barcelona c.1912. D’Indy is even less encountered in transfers which makes his brace (London, 1923) the more important. Again, he plays his own music as one would expect. The cachet is cemented by good sound form the Hayes studios.

Eibenschütz’s records are some of the most vital and important committed to disc. Born in 1873 she studied with Clara Schumann and left behind these few, precious traces of her performing style before marriage took her away pretty much permanently from the concert hall and recording studio, albeit she did makes some duo and chamber appearances. The Brahms sides are the most important of her recordings in view of her association with the composer. He showed her the then unpublished Opp.118 and 119. Her playing of the (abridged) G minor Ballade Op.118 No.3 thus reverberates with this knowledge; it’s a very rare recording indeed and intensely important, allowing one intimate access to a performance from the immediate Brahms circle.

In pretty much all respects Naxos’s transfers (Ward Marston and Richard Warren Jr) are the field leaders…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2010

Five composers playing their own works combine with eleven great 19th century pianists who were disciples of particular composers in a reissue of recordings that stretch back over more than a hundred years old. For a start let me assure you that the restoration engineers have worked wonders on the original discs, and have made them eminently enjoyable. Maybe the hair-raising tempo which turns Saint-Saens’ March militaire francaise into a fast galop was more to do with meeting the time possible on one disc, but it does display the composer’s very agile fingers at the age of 84! The other composers are D’Indy, Chaminade, Grieg - who plays with such unassuming artistry - and Granados. Arthur De Greef’s Puck from Grieg’s Lyric Pieces and Frederic Lamond’s impish Gnomenreigen by Liszt are notable among the virtuoso pianists. Also included are Mark Hambourg; some magical Brahms from Ilona Eibenschutz; Vassily Sapallnikoff playing Tchaikovsky and Alfred Grunfeld in his piano arrangements of music by Johann Strauss Jnr. A disc that will greatly interest collectors, but even if you only have a passing inquisitiveness into the style of performance in the early part of the 20th century, I can much commend the disc to you and give due praise to those who have made it possible.

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