Landmarks of Recorded Pianism, Vol. 1

52073-2 (2 CDs)  | $ 36.00


Landmarks of Recorded Pianism, Vol. 1
This release features a collection of what might be called piano orphans: commercial and non-commercial recordings of great pianists that simply have never found their way onto compact disc. Among these treasures are fifteen minutes of Dinu Lipatti playing Scarlatti and Brahms that have only recently surfaced; an unpublished disc of Alfred Cortot playing the “Russian Dance” from Petroushka; and previously unpublished excerpts of the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto played by Vladimir Horowitz with the Philadelphia Orchestra, recorded during a 1932 concert conducted by Fritz Reiner and recorded as an experiment by the Bell Telephone Laboratory. This is Horowitz's earliest known concert performance and is in amazing sound for that time. It is unfortunate that the entire concerto was not recorded, but hearing these excerpts will be a revelation for Horowitz fans. Also included are live concerto performances by Lev Puishnov and Guiomar Novaes. We feel certain that piano enthusiasts worldwide will treasure this 2-CD set as nothing like it has been heard since Gregor Benko produced his acclaimed Landmarks of Recorded Pianism LP forty years ago.

CD 1 (79:57)

Dinu Lipatti

1.Sonata in D Minor, K. 9 (Scarlatti)3:21
2.Sonata in G, K. 14 (Scarlatti)2:50
3.Sonata in G Minor, K. 450 (Scarlatti)3:21
4.Intermezzo in C, Op. 119, No. 3 (Brahms)1:38
5.Capriccio in D Minor, Op. 116, No. 7 (Brahms)2:15
 ca. 1945-1946; private recordings, unpublished

Josef Labor

6.Sonata No. 7 in D, Op. 10, No. 3 [continuation of second movement] (Beethoven)5:22
 ca. 1921; (Union 176/177) unpublished on LP or CD

Iso Ellinson

7.Mazurka in G-sharp Minor, Op. 33, No. 1 (Chopin)1:18
8.Etude in G-sharp Minor, Op. 25, No. 6 (Chopin)2:08
 8 January 1932; (C-WR 231-2) German Columbia DW 3013-1X, unpublished on LP or CD

Moritz Rosenthal

9.Waltz in E Minor, Op. Posthumous (Chopin)2:31
 30 June 1939, Chicago; (BS040234-1) RCA, unpublished

Ivan Davis

10.Grandes études de Paganini No. 3, “La Campanella” (Liszt)5:02
 ca. 1960; Television broadcast recording performed on the Siena Pianoforte, unpublished on LP or CD

Stanley Hummel

11.The Lark (Glinka/Balakirev)4:51
 ca. 1960, Albany, New York; private recording session, unpublished

Leff Pouishnoff

Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18 (Rachmaninoff)
12.Opening announcement1:18
13.I Moderato9:47
14.II Adagio sostenuto10:33
15.III Allegro scherzando10:43
 with London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult 
 27 July 1946; unpublished

Alfred Cortot

16.“Danse russe” from Petrouchka (Stravinsky)2:34
 6 December 1927; (Cc12109-1) Gramophone Company, unpublished

Ervin Nyiregyhazi

17.Mässig, No. 2 from Three Pieces, Op. 11 (Schönberg)9:40
 20 March 1978, San Francisco; International Piano Archives, unpublished

CD 2 (77:25)

Abram Chasins

1.Variations sérieuses, Op. 54 (Mendelssohn)10:50
 12 November 1931, London; (2B 2408-2, 2B 2409-2, 2B 2410-1) Gramophone Company, unpublished

Vladimir Horowitz

Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 [incomplete] (Tchaikovsky)
2.Allegro non troppo – Allegro con spirito [excerpt, bars 375–579]5:56
3.Allegro non troppo – Allegro con spirito [excerpt, bars 605 to end of movement]1:50
4.Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo One [excerpt, bars 1–57]3:33
5.Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo One [excerpt, bars 96 to end of movement]3:06
6.Allegro con fuoco [excerpt, bars 1–174]3:26
 Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner 
 5-6 February 1932; (BTL 1955/56/68/70) The Bell Telephone Laboratory experimental recordings during two performances, unpublished
7.Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, Third Movement [excerpt] (Beethoven)1:47
 29 May 1959, Carnegie Hall; RCA Victor recording session, unpublished
8.Scherzo a Capriccio in F-sharp Minor (Mendelssohn)0:48
 2 May 1980, Avery Fisher Hall, New York; unpublished
9.Parody of the promotional message for the RCA album “Showcase in Sound”0:54
 ca. 1956, New York City

Guiomar Novaes

Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K. 271 “Jeunehomme” (Mozart)
10.I Allegro10:08
11.II Andantino11:34
12.III Rondo, Presto9:50
 with the Little Orchestra Society conducted by Thomas Scherman 
 9 January 1950; unpublished
13.Excerpt from Novaes’s final recording session for Vox Records13:44
 ca. 1961-1962, New York; unpublished


Producers: Gregor Benko and Ward Marston

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris

Photographs: Gregor Benko and John Maltese

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi

Booklet Notes: Gregor Benko

Marston would like to thank Mark Ainley, Laurie Berkman, Robert Berkman, Frank Cooper, Francis Crociata, Dr. Frank Csik, Raymond Edwards, Johan Falleyn, Joseph Ganun, Peter Greenleaf, Larry Holdridge, Jolyon Hudson, Geoffrey Lapin, Farhan Malik, John Maltese, David Mason, Eugene Pollioni, Jay Riese, and Jonathan Summers for their assistance with this CD set.

Marston is grateful to the Estate of John Stratton (Stephen Clarke, Executor) for its continuing support.

Landmarks of Recorded Pianism was the title of an LP produced by International Piano Archives for the Desmar label in 1977 (IPA 117). The idea was to present “orphan” recordings of great pianists that didn’t fit into plans for other reissues. It was optimistically subtitled “Volume 1.” No subsequent volumes were issued, so the disc was both a debut and a farewell. Now Marston is bringing the idea to life, this time in double CD format, with keen anticipation that there will indeed be subsequent volumes.

The intervening years have brought us to a place that was unimaginable. Historic issues and reissues, so rare and infrequent then, are now commonplace, even first choices for new compact disc issues by major companies, their archives providing fodder for new catalogue items. This is perhaps in lieu of recordings by new “stars”, a musical species that seems to have gone almost extinct in the interim. Boutique labels have found an inexhaustible source for historic issues, drawing on the hundreds of thousands of concerts and broadcasts that were recorded since the 1930s. Much—not all—historic material deserves to be made available, for vault and archive recordings preserved a fantastic array of personal music making, inscribed through the years by artists of varying degrees of fame and talent. Alas, many of the greatest artists of the past recorded little and died before the advent of widespread recording of concerts and broadcasts—a good example is Dinu Lipatti (1917–1950). 

Dinu Lipatti’s Lost Recordings

Mark Ainley, a recognized authority on the art of piano playing, host of the Piano Files, and a lover of Dinu Lipatti’s art, has searched for nearly three decades to unearth recordings that would augment the superb pianist’s precious but small discography. Rumors of unpublished test pressings, air checks, and other non-commercial discs circulated and were all assiduously investigated by Mark—it is thanks to his work that these and other Lipatti recorded treasures have been rescued and published, recordings that otherwise could easily have been lost. Details of why, and by whom, the acetate discs presented here were inscribed in the mid-1940s may never be known, but ultimately, they were brought to New York by a collector who was not disposed to permit them to be copied, despite Mr. Ainley’s entreaties. Eventually they became part of the collection of Joseph Ganun, proprietor of New York’s Academy Records and CDs, who graciously made them available to Marston. Sadly, there were several other Lipatti acetates in the group, but they had deteriorated and could not be saved. Mark Ainley has contributed the following notes:

Dinu Lipatti’s recordings are prized for their clarity, precision, and good taste. When the young Romanian died at the age of thirty-three, posterity was left with just a bit more than three hours of studio recordings (all made for EMI), performances that are classics of the gramophone, and relatively few concert or broadcast recordings of Lipatti have been found. 

In early 2008, word reached me of some previously unknown recordings in the hands of a collector in Brooklyn that came from an estate sale in Geneva. In May of that year, I visited the collector and was shown a series of discs with labels bearing Lipatti’s distinctive handwriting; some records named specific works while others bore simply the composer’s name or Lipatti’s signature. Several of the discs had deteriorated so badly that the acetate surface was peeling off of the 12-inch metal plate to which they had originally adhered—they were ruined. It was a tantalizing find that was complicated by the collector’s unwillingness to commit to having the few intact records transferred to determine and preserve their musical contents.

The date and circumstances of these performances is uncertain. All of the records bear the label of a Swiss recording firm, Audemars. As the Scarlatti and Brahms works found on these discs figured in Lipatti’s recitals in the 1945–1946 season, it seems likely that the records were produced around that time. It is unclear whether they were all made at the same session or on various occasions, and whether they are privately made or radio studio recordings (the former seems more likely given a notably out-of-tune note in the Brahms disc).

Pianistically the performances reveal Lipatti’s famous crystalline touch, clarity of texture, rhythmic vitality, and transparent voicing. The D Minor Scarlatti Sonata K. 9 is different from the 1947 EMI recording (the piano tone is superior in this new performance) and the G Major Sonata K. 14 varies from the 1941 test record issued on Archiphon (this version features the repeats). As magnificent as these two performances are, what is most remarkable is the G Minor Sonata K. 450, a work completely new to the pianist’s discography: Lipatti’s layering of voices, highlighting of key shifts, and crisply defined trills are utterly mesmerizing.

Lipatti made no official recordings of solo Brahms works—some abbreviated performances from 1936 and 1941 private discs were issued in 1995 and 2001—so the recordings here of the Intermezzo in C Major Op. 119, No. 3 and Capriccio in D Minor Op. 116, No. 7 are of particular interest. In addition to Lipatti’s clear voicing, they feature pronounced accents, bold subito effects, and other dramatic touches that are at odds with the persistent perception of Lipatti as a chaste, genteel interpreter. These fascinating performances expand our perception of both Lipatti’s repertoire and his interpretative style.

Josef Labor

—The rarest piano record
in existence, one of
the great Beethoven performances,
an important document for musicology

What use are recordings? A recent essay by Leon Botstein (“Recordings and Reality”, The Musical Quarterly, March 2012) may be the most important discussion of recordings and their relationship to music that has so far been published. He reminds us that recordings made after about 1960 were manipulated and constructed through technical means—they are artifacts, but is the result music? For most of the world, the answer is unqualifiedly yes. It’s a tricky question to unravel, for recordings represent an aspect of art that is unique to music. No one would ever think a reproduction of a painting or a snapshot of a sculpture was the artwork itself, while recordings of music, especially more recent ones that are artifacts constructed after the fact, have become the music itself. And the impact recording (and amplification) has had is not entirely positive.

Here’s Botstein:

“… the recording has emerged as the primary medium of music … representing music adequately, and for some, even ideally … any pianist who attempts to play Beethoven or Chopin today faces listeners whose criteria of judgment have been developed by repeated hearings of recorded performances. Their careers are not made by cognoscenti who ‘know’ the work from a printed text or by their own efforts to play the notated music. In the place of Beethoven and Chopin are Schnabel, Kempff, Arthur Rubinstein, and everyone since who has recorded the thirty-two Beethoven Sonatas or the entire oeuvre of Chopin.… How we understand music or choose to analyze it and judge its performance is distorted by our reliance on recording … recordings may deceive us and lure us into thinking … that our experience of music is continuous with the past.… A recording may have a powerful impact. But perhaps that impact hides a residual barrier, a subconscious awareness of distance from the real thing … in point of fact, gaining knowledge of music from recordings, whether we like it or not, is what dominates and now seems logical and sufficient. Recordings increasingly seem to be essential in the training of professional musicians, as evident in auditions when young talent performs well-known works, revealing, by explicit admission, startling imitations of recorded accounts. Recordings help define the use of notation; literacy becomes reduced to “following” along.... As future musicians immerse themselves in the technical athletic demands of music making (defined in large measure by the artificial standards achieved by edited perfection in recordings), their interest in the history of music or music’s place in the world appears to dwindle.… There is little sense that music, the object of study, is out there—in the public arena—as an experience of listening in real space and time to performers (even oneself) or as a text, for which a recording, no matter how good or famous, is nothing more than an image, one pale version.… Something fundamental is at stake.… Music should be seen as unstable, ever changing, fixed only momentarily in a real-time performance, at home or on stage.… The notated work of music must be completed over and over again by each individual’s act of listening and observation in response to hearing different performances in discrete spaces and times — not the same fixed version on a recording over and over again. Music as read text is realized from its notation each time anew, just as a novel might be, and is therefore heard differently by its reader.… Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert … did not harbor … negative attitudes to performance and interpretation…”

No composer before Stravinsky dreamed that music was anything other than a text wedded to a performance. In a very important sense, relying on note-perfect constructed artifacts in sound (the vast corpus of post-1960 commercial recordings) is a philosophically incomplete guide, a misleading map that takes us down a wrong road. That is, if indeed we want to discern the original intentions of the various composers. Historical recordings, even those by second and third-rate performers, are reminiscences of actual performances. They captured musical culture from time past. The evidence they present demands that deeply held tenets must be reexamined. Until recently, music was performance, and performance perforce was personal.

It seems that every decade or so a notable discovery, a “new” historic recording, appears, one that is both important and astonishing, helping us understand a little better what music was at the time of the great composers, if not what it is now. We present such a new discovery, the previously unknown recording of composer/organist/pianist Josef Labor, who was born on 29 June 1842 and died on 26 April 1924. Labor was one of the most eminent pianists and teachers of his era. As a Professor at the Vienna Conservatory, his pupils included Arnold Schönberg, Paul Wittgenstein, and Mahler’s wife Alma Schindler. Labor’s recording is a snapshot of how a great musician, one whose musical persona was formed just one generation after the death of the composer, actually performed Beethoven. There was no editing, no technical manipulation. He played as he was inspired to do when he was recorded, and this artifact faithfully reflects that inspiration and playing.

Blind since age three because of smallpox, Labor was a close friend of Brahms, Richard Strauss, and King Georg V of Hannover, who awarded Labor the title Royal and Imperial Court Organist. By March 1865, at the age of twenty-three, Labor was already considered an important pianist, when the Blätter für Theater, Musik und Kunst reviewed a concert in Hanover at which Labor appeared with the violinist Joseph Joachim, accompanying and playing solo. The review stated “… Today it means quite a lot to excel as a pianist. Mr. Labor did it. He has a soft and sensitive touch … the young artist’s playing is extraordinarily appealing … with his great skills and dexterity, but especially with his manner of playing … he keeps the interest of the audience.... For the attentive and receptive listener, the Adagio is the field where the young artist harvests his nicest laurels … with spontaneous, sensitive taste and sensual feeling.…” (Translation by Johan Falleyn). Joachim became extraordinarily fond of Labor’s playing, and three months later in London, the two appeared together in a concert that featured Jenny Lind. By 1867 the Wiener Zeitung was comparing new pianists with established great pianists Rubinstein, Brahms, and Labor. Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 10, No. 3 was already part of Labor’s repertoire in April 1868. In Hanslick’s 1869 work “Geschichte des Concertlebens in Wien”, pianist Labor is ranked in the company of Brahms, Clara Schumann, and von Bulow.

At that time, the Wittgenstein family was one of Austria’s wealthiest and most prominent. Son Paul, the pianist, commissioned important compositions for the left hand, some of which are now in the standard repertoire, and son Ludwig emerged as one of the most important philosophers. A good introduction to Labor is found in the 2008 book The House of Wittgenstein by Alexander Waugh, where we learn that both Paul and Ludwig Wittgenstein “… befriended, adulated and revered a blind organist and composer called Josef Labor … a small man, not quite a dwarf but nearly so, who wore a bushy moustache and let his thick hair grow wild around his shoulders. A disconcerting glimmer of blind white eyeball showed through the slits of his half-shut eyelids, and the skin of his face was sallow and gray.... A long chin and pointed bird-bill nose completed the image.… He was however a wise, intelligent, and kind-hearted man. Ludwig regarded Labor as the greatest living composer, indeed as one of the six great composers of all time—Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms being the other five. Paul also held him as both man and musician in the highest regard. ‘What binds you and me together,’ Ludwig wrote to his brother, ‘is our shared interest in Labor’s music.’ … Labor … was educated at the Institute for the Blind in Vienna and later studied piano and organ at the Vienna Conservatoire. He lived for a while in lower Saxony, where he was court organist to the libidinous King George V of Hanover …” (Waugh hints but does not speculate about bachelor Labor’s personal relationship to King George V, but the closeness of the two spawned rumors.) Waugh continues: “… The king, who was also blind, became a close friend and when he was forced to move to Austria in 1866, Labor came with him. Paul went to him for ‘music theory’ lessons, which consisted of long conversations about music, art, theater, philosophy, politics and life in general.… The Wittgenstein family was besotted with him. He became their property—their in-house composer, musical adviser, recipient of their charity, friend, and all-around philosophical and psychological guru.” Waugh writes that when others set up a Labor-Bund charitable effort to promote his compositions “… the Wittgensteins were very jealous …” Waugh reports that Labor had given up hope of ever having enough money to buy an organ for himself. Eventually Paul and Ludwig’s mother bought him a Rieger-Jägerndorfer organ. The family also paid to have Universal Edition publish a collection of Labor’s compositions for his 70th birthday in June 1912. The family promoted regular “Labor Evenings” of concerts of his music in Vienna.

But most readers will have never heard of Labor, as I hadn’t when this recording came to light. His history, and his piano playing, constitute one of the forgotten stories in classical music, but first some details about the recording itself. The sole copy now thought to exist of Labor’s record is in the collection of John Maltese Jr., known for both the discovery and publication of the Block cylinders on Marston’s Dawn of Recording and for producing the compact disc set of Jascha Heiftez’s complete recordings (both accomplished in association with his father, John Maltese Sr.) John realized the importance of the Labor record and made it available to Marston. It was not known that Labor had made a recording before this discovery, and few collectors have ever seen any record on the rare Union label. We are indebted to researcher Jolyon Hudson for the following details: Union was an obscure Austrian record label associated with a certain Johann Arlett, a wholesale distributor of various products including records. Another of his record labels was Telraphon. Both labels featured mostly light classics, band music, and other inconsequential material, utilizing matrices licensed from other labels. These discs were produced for specific local markets—as a result they are scarce and almost never found outside Austria. Arlett was still in business as late as 1942.

Determining the exact date that Labor recorded the disc is difficult; the sound captured is unusually full and vivid; upon first hearing it is almost impossible to identify as anything but an early electrical recording. However, Labor died in 1924, a year before the advent of widespread electrical recording. The paper labels on Labor’s Union record bear an eagle and two American flags; it has been suggested that it would have been unlikely that such overtly American symbols would appear on any Austrian record label after the start of World War One. Jolyon Hudson has discovered that in late 1920 Areltt broke with his usual pattern of licensing masters from other labels, and began recording a short series of new discs, inscribed in Austria for his Union label, using hired Lindström engineers. As they were issued the newly-recorded discs bore catalogue numbers “1” through “263.” A rare Union catalogue that was printed in July, 1922, contains listings for about half of the Union records in that series, and the printed cover of the catalogue bears the Union symbol of an eagle flanked by American flags. Significantly, there are no listings for numbers 174 through 177. The two sides of the record we present of Josef Labor bear numbers 176 and 177. As the record contains parts two and three of a Beethoven sonata movement, it is reasonable to assume that catalogue numbers 174 and 175 were also of Labor, containing the first part of the sonata movement, and another short work, perhaps a Beethoven Bagatelle. Until a copy of a Union record with catalogue numbers 174 and 175 turns up, we won’t know for certain. Labor’s record was most likely recorded in the first months of 1921, a few weeks before his seventy-ninth birthday. Labor had participated in concerts with pianist Paul Wittgenstein in Vienna in January and May 1921. It is most likely that Labor’s recording adventure was a private affair sponsored by the Wittgenstein family. Extensive searches have found no Labor records in any institutional collections. Labor’s estate resides at the Vienna State Library, but the collection contains no recordings of Labor, despite rumors that he made records for both Union and the Gramophone company. For the moment at least, there is only one copy of one Labor record. It is the rarest piano record known to me, and in my estimation, one of the most important.

Details of dating and rarity are of lesser importance, compared to the disc’s musical and historical value. Although we have only two-thirds of a Beethoven sonata movement, Labor’s uniquely personal interpretation exhibits rare imagination and almost mystical intensity. One historical incident to keep in mind in dealing with Labor’s unorthodox performance is the occasion when pianist Marie Bigot (1786–1820), the teacher of both Mendelssohns, played for Beethoven, the first to play the “Appassionata Sonata” for its composer, from the manuscript. Beethoven was struck, and told her, “That is not exactly the character I wanted to give this piece; but go ahead. If it is not wholly mine it is something better.” Beethoven’s eminent biographer Thayer tells us the composer was so impressed he gave her the manuscript.

The few who have so far heard this record have been something more than astonished. As an example of the potent impact the playing of the blind, seventy-nine-year-old Labor still has, time-traveling through decades and emerging from a scratchy old record, here are the comments of one of the most astute piano historians I know, Mr. Johan Falleyn of Belgium: “Labor’s playing is so different from any Beethoven I have ever heard … my impression is that of someone ‘talking’. He makes sentences like someone who is speaking, with accents, question marks, and affirmations … this is wonderful music, so different but genuine, so deeply felt. I am really very grateful to be able to listen to something so otherworldly.”

And otherworldly it is, as you will hear. Dare we ask if this be anything like what Beethoven himself “intended”? It certainly is nothing like the Beethoven playing we have become accustomed to through the records of Backhaus, Arrau, Serkin, et al. If ever there was a historical recording that we should pay attention to, and study, this is it. Given Labor’s biography, there is ample reason to ponder this interpretation long and hard. But for sure many will not be able to derive any enjoyment or deduce any musicological data from Labor’s accomplishment. (I am reminded of the professor who discounts pianist Rachmaninoff’s records of his own works, because he departed from the urtext in those recordings.) To the rest of us, this is revelation.

Iso Elinson rare 78 rpm disc

Estimable pianists sometimes have been forgotten, even though they did make recordings. One is the Russian-British Iso Elinson (1907–1964) who incised two 78 rpm discs in Berlin in January, 1932 when he was twenty-four. They are both rarities (no copy of the disc with Liszt’s “Mazeppa” has been located, although later he made some LPs for the Pye label). We are indebted to Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music at the British Library, for presenting this Elinson disc on his blog, as well as for his research about the pianist. Elinson’s first teacher was his mother, a pupil of Anton Rubinstein. At age four he was accepted by the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, studying with Horowitz’s teacher Felix Blumenfeld. He graduated in 1922 with a recommendation from Glazunoff: “… He possesses both a remarkable and skillful technique … and a genius for artistic musicality. In the might of his talent and performance he is truly a follower of Franz Liszt ...” In 1927 Elinson performed cycles of the complete Beethoven sonatas in three Russian cities, then the complete Well-Tempered Clavier in Berlin at the time he recorded his two 78 rpm discs, and subsequently toured South America. From 1933 on he played regularly in Britain, often with conductors John Barbirolli, Thomas Beecham, and Henry Wood. In 1938 came his American debut. Critic Gama Gilbert in the New York Times found he had “… exceptional technique, for the air is filled with dazzling octaves, thirds and assorted runs, all clearly articulated … genuine artistic discernment ...” but was puzzled by occasional lapses. Twenty-five years later Elinson returned to New York for two recitals; the first all-Beethoven concert prompted the paper’s Howard Klein to write “… it has been a long time since Beethoven playing of this breadth has been heard …” while reviewer Raymond Ericson wrote of the second recital “... This is Chopin with strength and honesty, derived not from exact reading of the notes and a steady rhythmic flow but from a penetration into the individuality of the composer’s mind. The strength comes in part from Mr. Elinson’s tone … underlining of an inner voice, the distinct articulation of notes in a run … richness and dignity … in this day and age could not be more refreshing.” Both reviews had minor quibbles, but each paints a word portrait of a pianist one longs to hear. Elinson died at age fifty-six during the intermission of a concert in London.

Moritz (Moriz) Rosenthal: A new discovery

Publishing anything makes it immediately obsolete, for new information, new data, and in the case of record reissues, new recordings come to light soon enough. Rather than bemoan the imperfection of human efforts, we celebrate the fact that a previously unknown recording of Moritz Rosenthal (1862–1946) appeared in early 2017, after the excellent Moriz Rosenthalthe Complete Recordings set was issued on the APR label. The unique test pressing was discovered by recordings historian and dealer Lawrence Holdridge, a long-time supporter of the work of both Marston and International Piano Archives. Like most of his contemporaries, Rosenthal’s recorded oeuvre is mixed, for while some of his discs are among the great and important treasures of the phonograph, others do not do him justice, particularly some of his last recordings. He had recorded this Chopin waltz twice before, for the American Okeh label in 1928, and again in Europe for the Lindström group in 1930 (both found on the APR set). The poorly recorded 1928 disc is unsatisfying, the playing tentative; the 1930 version is far superior in all ways. This newly-found version was recorded at Rosenthal’s penultimate recording session, for RCA Victor, in Chicago in 1939. None of the recordings from that session (nor any from his last session three years later) were issued during his lifetime. It was thought that they all show a marked decline, but this discovery is doubly important, for it demonstrates that received opinion about Rosenthal’s decline isn’t wholly correct, while the interpretation is deliciously different in both subtle and more obvious ways, with a certain, uniquely winning character. Unlike the rest of his last recordings, Rosenthal’s playing here seems to belong to his former days of glory.

Ivan Davis playing on “The Siena Pianoforte”

Fifty years before the Joyce Hatto scandal of 2007, the world was subjected to a much more florid and romantic (but equally deliberate) piano-related deception, that of “The Immortal Piano” and its promoter, Avner Carmi. Unlike the Hatto lies, Carmi’s con has never been publicly exposed.

On 2 December 1960, the Wall Street Journal published an article: “ ‘Immortal Piano’ to Have Its Story, Tones on TV … a story of such coincidence and evolutions that if it isn’t true, it is very well invented … Avner Carmi … Israeli … piano tuner … when he was a child, his grandfather, a pianist, told him about a magnificent and unique piano, which the people of Siena had given to their sovereign, King Umberto. Franz Liszt had played on the piano and declared it a mystery of Beauty … Mr. Carmi searched for it for many years, and during World War II found it … encased in cement ... buried in the sands of North Africa, where it had been hidden by German soldiers … After the war it turned up in a junk heap in Tel Aviv. When the cement was chipped off, Mr. Carmi found his treasure, rebuilt it and put it in working order. ‘The Immortal Piano,’ which happens to be the title of a book by Mr. Carmi, is now part of the National Art Treasure of The State of Israel.… It’s ‘immortality’ is assured. The piano is now … at Columbia Records … for a recording session that will employ all of Columbia’s top pianistic artists … among them Robert Ismay and Glenn Gould …”

Glenn Gould? Robert Ismay? Almost nothing in the article had any basis in truth, and there is no historical record of Liszt or King Umberto having anything to do with “The Immortal Piano”. Today’s less credulous readers can almost immediately sense that something is wrong while reading the Wall Street Journal article. Maybe those were more innocent times, and sixty years ago Avner Carmi had, in fact, achieved a near-legendary status among piano technicians and tuners in the New York area; this was for his amazing abilities in restoring and tuning pianos, if not for his tall tales. Carmi’s heart was in Israel, but he was a presence in New York City. At that time there was a huge, multi-story used piano store on Manhattan’s West 23rd Street named Brodwin Pianos. (At one time Carmi lived in the Chelsea Hotel, down the street from the piano store.) He bought the heavily carved, ornate upright piano from the store’s manager, the owner Harry Brodwin’s son-in-law, Hy Myerson, sometime in the 1940s. Myerson made no claims about Siena, Liszt, or anything else. It was a highly carved old piano, Italian style, and he sold old pianos all day, every day. Extravagantly carved old upright pianos with anachronistic decorations are not that rare—recently the “Neo-Zapotec” piano went on display in Los Angeles.

In secret, Carmi restored the piano, altering its sound but never allowing anyone to look inside. It was not known just how he achieved its unusual timbre, described by Harold Schonberg in a 1955 review as “… twangy—something like a harpsichord with deep lungs that can sustain a tone …” Specific details of his elaborate deception could become even more absurd when Carmi extolled its virtues in person. For the print media, for instance, he would tell of the “legends” that existed about the piano, stating that it was known as “La arpa de Re Davide (King David’s Harp)”—but in person he could be much less continent, confiding that the piano’s soundboard had embedded in it a sliver of wood that was, miraculously, an actual fragment of a pillar that was part of King Solomon’s temple. To one piano technician he further claimed that the wooden fragment had originally been part of the soundboard of King David’s harp. Carmi’s deception leaned heavily on a thick layer of fake Jewish lore, overlaid with an almost Catholic-like obsession with relics, perhaps similar to stories of fragments of the true cross. He set about promoting his false saga, approaching several pianists to become involved. By 1955 Charles Rosen had made a disc of Mozart and Scarlatti on the Siena piano, and further LPs were issued with pianists Grace Castagnetta, Kathryn Deguire, Anatole Kitain, and Marisa Regules. Ivan Davis (b. 1932) recorded this one selection on the piano about 1960.

Arthur Loesser in the late 1960s described how Carmi had approached him with the suggestion he make recordings on the piano, as well as play it in concert. Loesser was adventurous, hadn’t been asked to make records for a long time, and toyed with the idea of recording, but said he drew the line at a concert on the piano: “Play an upright piano in a public concert? Well, I mean …” Carmi never tried to explain why a purported present for a king was a measly, if carved, upright piano, when every other piano ever made for royalty or rich presentation was a grand.

In 1960, Alvin Redman published Carmi’s book, The Immortal Piano, but the crowning triumph of Carmi’s efforts came with a television program, a docu-drama titled, of course, “The Immortal Piano” and broadcast as a segment of the Armstrong Circle Theatre, on 21 December 1960. A preposterously mawkish and sentimental script supported the melodramatic performances of actors impersonating Avner Carmi and his family, in the entirely fabricated story of Avner’s quest to find his Jewish holy grail, the completely fictional Siena pianoforte. No one can watch it today without laughing and cringing in equal measure. Avner Carmi continued to pursue all avenues that might help push his project, even visiting me at the International Piano Library office in New York, where together we determined there was nothing I could do to help him publicize his piano. Researcher Geoffrey Lapin has been able to resolve some of the unanswered questions. The sound Carmi obtained from the upright piano was, at least in part, the result of his use of single stringing; modern pianos are triple strung. But unlike old pianos that used thinner wire and were delicately strung under less pressure, Carmi used modern piano wire for his creation. A typed label in Hebrew and English inside the piano reads “Reconstructed by Avner Carmi of Israel November 29th, 1947”. Also inside is a listing of numbers, with their equivalents in Hebrew, which might refer to string lengths. Carmi went on to invent a modern piano that was single strung, which sounds much like the Siena pianoforte, which he called the “Carmichord.” The Siena pianoforte apparently is in private hands in Israel now.

Stanley Hummel rescues a gem of the repertoire

Stanley Hummel (1908–2005) was a pupil of both Josef and Rosina Lhevinne. His first pianistic idols, he told an Albany reporter in 1986, were Hofmann and Rachmaninoff, and afterwards Horowitz. He first played at a concert in New York City in 1928, and he performed there regularly, although he lived and taught in Albany, New York. A strikingly tall figure, he was also a grand master chess player and golfer. His playing was preserved on several LPs on the Ersta label, and this unpublished recording probably derives from those sessions. A hundred years ago Balakirev’s transcription of Glinka’s song “The Lark” was a favorite of pianists, but for some reason is rarely played now.

Leff Pouishnoff 1946 live performance of Rachmaninoff C Minor Concerto

A pupil of Anna Essipova at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Leff Pouishnoff (1891–1959) escaped to Paris in 1920, bringing only a hidden diamond with him. He sold it and used the money to pay expenses of sponsoring his own concerts. Paris was not enthralled, but his five recitals in 1921 in London’s Wigmore Hall were successful. Critics, especially Ernest Newman, praised him and the public loved him. Almost immediately he was established as a favorite, making his first records for British Columbia in 1922. In a May, 1923 Sunday Times piece, however, Newman, writing that the English in the last months had taken to hissing things of which they didn’t approve, reported that poor Pouishnoff was hissed by an outraged purist during his Queen’s Hall recital, after playing his own transcription of Schubert’s “Rosamunde”. A few weeks earlier the pianist had tried his hand at conducting, in an all-Tchaikovsky concert at Royal Albert Hall, at which he also played the composer’s first piano concerto, with Maurice Besley conducting the concerto. He settled down to an extensive career, recording many 78 rpm discs and early LPs, but they seem not to have done him justice. He suffered emotional problems in his final years and his death resulted from an overdose of sleeping pills. Fortuitously, he was in the vein for the first night of the Proms in 1946, so he now enters the select group of historic pianists who bequeath posterity a revealing recording of a live performance. Our thanks to Gene Pollioni, who discovered the recording and made it available. A passionate, authoritative and individual performance, with admirable assistance from conductor Boult, this recording bears witness to the high regard in England for Pouishnoff’s playing at its best.

Alfred Cortot recently discovered unissued Stravinsky Disc

The unique test pressing of this unissued Alfred Cortot (1877–1962) recording was sold on eBay. Stravinsky’s solo piano version, which he said was not a transcription, was designed to showcase piano technique. Petrushka was only six years old when Cortot made this record, but his technique was not perfect. However, Cortot’s performance is like the curate’s egg, good in some spots. At this distance we can only admire Cortot for his dedication to new music, and his courage. Those disgusted by wrong notes, beware. (I happen to love the record.)

Ervin Nyiregyhazi impresses Arnold Schönberg

Recordings of composers Bartók and Prokofiev romantically playing their own piano works defy any explanation for the very different style embraced by subsequent pianists. Ervin Nyiregyhazi (1903–1987) had a romantic conception of Schönberg’s piece, with a strong link to its composer. Hungarian born Nyiregyhazi’s spectacular American career had all but disappeared by 1935, largely as a result of his impossible personality. He was living in Los Angeles, occasionally doing movie studio work, and often found himself in straitened circumstances. He went to the library to see what sheet music had arrived for new piano compositions and discovered Arnold Schönberg’s Op. 11, No. 2 there. He was struck by the fact that it seemed to progress directly from his hero, Liszt’s, last, spare phase, and was impressed, so he memorized it. Soon after he was invited to a party, also attended by Schönberg himself, where they met and conversed. The composer was interested to hear him play the work, and Nyiregyhazi immediately obliged. Schönberg was dumbstruck and wrote about it to his friend, conductor Otto Klemperer:

“2 December 1935 ... I have never heard such a pianist before.... What he plays is expression in the older sense of the word, nothing else; but I have never heard such power of expression before. You will disagree with his tempos as much as I did. You will also note that he often seems to give primacy to sharp contrasts at the expense of form, the latter appearing to get lost. I say appearing to; for then, in its own way, his music surprisingly regains its form, makes sense, establishes its own boundaries. The sound he brings out of the piano is unheard of, or at least I have never heard anything like it. He himself seems not to know how he produces these novel and quite incredible sounds—although he appears to be a man of intelligence and not just some flaccid dreamer. And I have never before encountered such fullness of tone, achieved without ever becoming rough. For me, and probably for you too, it’s really too much fullness, but as a whole it displays incredible novelty and persuasiveness. And above all he’s only 33 [sic] years old, so he’s still got several stages of development before him, from which one may expect great things, given his point of departure ... it is amazing what he plays and how he plays it. One never senses that it is difficult, that it is technique—no, it is simply a power of the will, capable of soaring over all imaginable difficulties in the realization of an ideal.—You see, I’m waxing almost poetic …” (Translation from German by Dr. Phillip Beard).

Klemperer granted an audition. Nyiregyhazi hoped the conductor might help rekindle his stalled career, but it was a disaster when the pianist sabotaged the audition by his almost unbelievable willfulness. His career never revived, and forty-three years later Nyiregyhazi recorded the work for International Piano Archives.

Abram Chasins, a forgotten pianist

Abram Chasins (1903–1987) and Shura Cherkassky were the two most prominent students of Josef Hofmann at the Curtis Institute of Music. Chasins was perhaps even more talented, for he was also a composer, a scholar, and a gifted writer, as well as a masterful pianist as this recording proves. He was better known as a composer in the early years of his amazing career. His Three Chinese Pieces became the first work by an American to be performed by Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic. His detailed descriptions of his lessons are among the most valuable documents concerning Hofmann’s ideas on music and piano playing (found in Chasins’s 1958 book, Speaking of Pianists.) Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses was one of the compositions Chasins studied with Hofmann. Decades later Jorge Bolet described Chasins’s piano playing when they were students together at the Curtis Institute as “colossal,” while Abby Simon’s 2017 memoir Inner Voices states “Abram was one of Hofmann’s great students.” His Master’s Voice asked Chasins to record the solo piano version of his Three Chinese Pieces, and that record was issued, but the Mendelssohn Variations, recorded three days later, remained unissued. It is taken here from Chasins’s set of test pressings. Three months after the recording, on 29 February 1932, Chasins included the Variations Sérieuses at his first recital at Carnegie Hall. The New York Times found his performance of the Mendelssohn “… in his happiest vein …” while Musical America reported: “… Though the program was not marked by exceptional novelty, the artist endowed it with rare sincerity …” Hofmann, Godowsky, Lhevinne, Levitzki, Cherkassky, and Saperton were in the audience. Now we can hear what a colossal pianist Chasins was, which makes his 1946 decision to abandon his career as a pianist all the more puzzling. Chasins subsequently concentrated on developing New York’s radio station WQXR into the premiere classical music station, as well as writing several books. Chasins made some early stereo LPs, but they are poorly recorded and his years of not practicing show. This is Chasins’s true legacy as a pianist.

Vladimir Horowitz in Hi-Fi from 1932: His Humor and His Anger

Interest in the recordings of Vladimir Horowitz (and much else concerning him) so far remains unabated. The continuing effect his recorded playing exerts on succeeding pianists is unique. No other pianist since Liszt has influenced piano performances as thoroughly and deeply, but whether that influence has been entirely positive is debatable. There have been several biographies and other volumes devoted to him and his art, but the evolution of his career and playing, as well as any fuller understanding of his complex personality, has yet to be limned completely, and there will most likely be other books to come. Horowitz’s performances of the Tchaikovsky first concerto are essential artifacts supporting his legend. Here we present the earliest known live Horowitz recording: portions of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto, recorded in nearly hi-fi sound, stemming from experiments carried out by the Bell Telephone Laboratory during two Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, given on Friday afternoon and Saturday evening.

Bell had been experimenting with electrical recording techniques since 1922. During the 1931/1932 season of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Bell recorded excerpts from the Orchestra’s performances. The Philadelphia Bulletin’s unsigned review of Saturday 6 February 1932:

“… There could have been no doubt of the ‘treat’ in store in the playing of the young Russian pianist. Unassuming, self-possessed, without trace of so-called ‘mannerism,’ Horowitz—whose former appearances had justified eager expectation—is one of the great artists of his instrument. Technique is a by-gone conclusion with him and not only is the keyboard completely at his command, but the true musician, of dramatic instinct and poetic soul, is revealed in his playing. The Tschaikowsky [sic] concerto might be called ‘showy,’ but what it shows is well worth while, in its melodious charm and stirring appeal, especially when there is a Horowitz to play it. Its interpretation yesterday was a brilliant achievement, one which fairly held the audience spellbound and won the pianist an ovation, the audience lingering to repeat its fervent applause and to recall him several times. Mr. Reiner was very much ‘on the job’ in directing the performance and the accompaniment was so splendidly done as to win honors for leader and orchestra as well as for soloist.…”

The excerpts recorded show myriad differences, big and small, from the several other recordings of the pianist in this concerto, different interpretive choices and ideas, as well as some different technical accomplishments. Reiner’s conducting is amazing for many reasons. From a technical standpoint, the recording is equally astonishing, capturing a huge dynamic range. Would that all recordings from 1932 sounded this good!

Interest in Horowitz as a personality remains almost as intense as interest in Horowitz the pianist. We get candid glimpses of Horowitz in three segments from recording sessions, the first for RCA Victor at Carnegie Hall in 1959. Artist and repertoire man Jack Pfeiffer is in the recording booth, Horowitz on stage at the piano. An engineer gives the session date and location. Initially Horowitz is bothered by “motor noise from the street,” which apparently couldn’t be heard by Pfeiffer. That problem is forgotten when a pesky fly intrudes, and the pianist exclaims “I had a fly behind me ... I’m recording in Africa, not America!” We can hear Wanda Horowitz’s mirth. Horowitz agreed to a tryout recording session at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall (earlier known as “Philharmonic Hall,” now known as “Geffen Hall”) on 2 May 1980. Like everyone else, the pianist was unhappy with the acoustics of the hall. He had played a recital in the hall a year earlier and was wary of playing there again. Our second segment documents his hatred of the acoustics: “You cannot play staccato here on account of the acoustics—you cannot. No staccato—no lightness—NOTHING! Is nothing here. This is—shit, this hall, absolutely shit! I’m not playing here, you can cancel.” The session was cancelled. Nevertheless, he played two further recitals there, the first two days later on 4 May and the second on 11 May 1980. Some may wonder how the pianist could agree to play in a hall that had acoustics he hated so deeply. Horowitz told this anecdote: “Rachmaninoff used to say: ‘check good, acoustics good.’” (The hall’s acoustics remain a problem. In October 2017, plans for completely rebuilding the hall at a cost of half a billion dollars were abandoned.)

In the late 1950s RCA tried different marketing campaigns, one of which was titled the Showcase in Sound. Several of its eminent artists were persuaded to record short spoken promotional speeches, and a “sampler” LP (SRL-12-28 “The RCA Victor Red Seal Showcase in Sound”) was sold widely and cheaply. On that record Horowitz promotes his new Scriabin album, speaking anodyne words in a carefully rehearsed and somewhat stilted manner, telling us that keyboard romanticism was the mark of Scriabin’s genius and “… I believe that the time has come for a rehearing of Scriabin …” He hoped the pleasure of hearing it will be as rewarding for us as was his pleasure in playing it. Everybody concerned knew how corny those words were, but that’s what RCA wanted. At the same time, however, Horowitz, with Jack Pfeiffer, recorded a parody of their own work, just for themselves, telling hearers to blame Alan Kayes, then head of classics at RCA, if the records don’t arrive on time, to blame the composer if we don’t like the music, blame the engineers if we don’t like the sound, to blame Mr. Vladimir Horowitz if the performance is lousy, but to “… Please buy the record because we are all in great need of money.”

Guiomar Novaes exquisite Mozart and her last Vox recording session

The Brazilian artist Guiomar Novaes (1895–1979) just might be the most overlooked great pianist to have recorded. This performance of Mozart’s “Jeunehomme” concerto found her at the peak, displaying unending imaginative tonal effects and a nearly-unique tension, a quiet intensity, in the slow movement. The review the next day in the New York Times, by Howard Taubman, stated: “Miss Novaes’s playing was the highlight of the evening.... One imagines that in style and proportion it was close to what Mozart’s time would have heard. And in the slow movement, where the composer of twenty-one wrote with incredible depth and maturity, Miss Novaes did her most searching playing …”

Novaes made several extraordinary 78 rpm discs before allying herself to the American Vox LP label, for which she recorded a large repertoire over a dozen years. The Vox company was unique in many ways, not the least for the wily behavior of its owner/manager, a man who styled himself as “George de Mendelsohn-Bartholdy.” Most of the Vox roster of artists was from the second, third, and fourth tiers, but Mendelssohn did manage to snag a few star artists. One reason there were not more stars on the label is because Mendelssohn did not pay royalties. He bragged: “When the money comes in, I throw the bills up in the air and those that stick to the ceiling, I pay to the artists in royalties.” For that and many other reasons Mme Novaes probably made a mistake when she agreed to be a Vox artist. The sound on almost all her Vox LPs were substandard and recording conditions were not first rate. About mid-1961 things became tense between artist and company. Mendelssohn wanted her to record new repertoire and a recording session was set up, using the Columbia Records studio on Manhattan’s West 30th Street. Mendelssohn was traveling, and deputized employees Ernst Werner and assistant Eric Schuler to run the session. Novaes arrived with her close friend, Fred Plaut, an engineer for CBS Records, who was also a famous photographer. Novaes and Plaut had worked together earlier when she recorded 78 rpm discs for Columbia, and their professional relationship grew into a close personal one. They found it comfortable to speak French together. This turned out to be Novaes’s last session for Vox.

The recording presented here was given to critic Harold Schonberg by Vox employee Ward Botsford. Harold gave it to me, and owning it has been one of my secret pleasures for several decades. We can’t know whether Novaes wanted to deliberately sabotage the session, perhaps hoping to free herself from Vox—it is possible. It is also likely that she truly wanted to make new recordings of repertoire she had recorded before, for Vox was now obtaining much better sound. In fact, the piano sound from this last session is indeed superior. Whatever the motivations, we hear Ernst Werner as he tries to make her come up with some new selections. The poor man obviously had no talent for dealing with artists, and, taking the advantage, Novaes lets him know that: “I am an arteeest, I am not a machine!” We get a fascinating glimpse of the storied practice habits of the old, great pianists, her practicing Chopin’s Berceuse V - E - R - Y S - L - O - W - L - Y. One of several problems for Werner was that she deliberately practiced over his pleas. Another rare glimpse of a legendary practice of the past is that she changes key in the process. We know her teacher, Isidor Philipp, had his most talented students play each piece in every key. Things heat up, and the session is cancelled. A few months later she recorded an LP for the American Decca label that enjoys excellent sound and contains several fabulous performances, but for some reason there were no further Novaes LPs for that label. She and I worked together a few years later, when she was the star of the International Piano Library benefit concert in New York on 3 October 1970. I found her to be a sweet, cooperative lady and think she was probably the injured party in the dispute with Vox. I’m rooting for her.

© Gregor Benko, co-founder of
International Piano Library/
International Piano Archives, 2018