Magazine article Gramophone

Pianist-Composers of the Golden Age: Jeremy Nicholas Delves into a Clutch of Releases Exploring the Dustier Corners of the Piano Repertoire

Magazine article Gramophone

Pianist-Composers of the Golden Age: Jeremy Nicholas Delves into a Clutch of Releases Exploring the Dustier Corners of the Piano Repertoire

Article excerpt

From adventurous Toccata Classics comes a programme of short works by three pianist-composers from the so-called Golden Age, ie the period that extends, roughly, from the 1890s to the late 1930s. All but forgotten except among pianophiles, Mischa Levitzki was a huge star between the two world wars, a red-label HMV artist and, in the days before the Depression when Steinway & Sons graded artists using their pianos into four categories, accorded category A along with Hofmann and Paderewski (Horowitz and Rachmaninov had to settle for category B). Levitzki had the misfortune to die young (aged 42 in 1941).

While he left behind a substantial body of recordings, he composed only eight short miniatures. All these appear in chronological order on Margarita Glebov's delightful disc. The most famous (and the shortest at 1'35") is the Valse in A major, Op 2, a Kreisleresque miniature of enormous charm which Levitzki himself recorded three times. If Glebov does not quite match the twinkle-eyed nonchalance or the underlying melancholy of the composer here, in the Valse de concert, Op 1, or the Arabesque valsante, Op 6 (both also recorded by Levitzki), she comes close with an innate feeling for his salon grace and elegance. The best piece is, arguably, The Enchanted Nymph (1927), championed by Stephen Hough on his 1993 'The Piano Album 2' (Virgin). Why don't more pianists play it?

The remainder of Glebov's disc has four slightly more ambitious pieces by Ossip Gabrilowitsch (1878-1936), he of the improbably high-winged collar (unfashionable even then) and the son-in-law of Mark Twain. These are followed by a selection of transcriptions and original works by the great Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948), beginning with a version of Franck's organ Prelude, fugue et variation. Whereas Harold Bauer's better-known transcription attempts to emulate the organ's sonority with heavier voicing throughout, Friedman's lighter touch makes it sound like an original piano work. Glebov does not take quite as much advantage of the dynamic markings as she might. This, however, is a premiere recording (as are 20 of the disc's 26 tracks), along with transcriptions of pieces by Grazioli, Stamitz, Couperin, Friedman's Four Preludes, Op 61, and a selection of seven etudes from (the 16 of) his Op 63. These original works alone are worth the price of the disc in convincing and powerful performances. Altogether an imaginative and rewarding disc that comes with an excellent booklet by Maxwell Brown.

An entire disc devoted to Friedman transcriptions and another to his original works comes from Joseph Banowetz, celebrating his 80th birthday in December and an indefatigable musichaeologist (a new word I have coined to describe someone who spends most of their career unearthing buried musical treasure). …

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