Classical Reissue Reviews

The Welte Mignon Mystery Vol. XVI, Josef Lhevinne: His 1906/1911 European Interpretations = Sel. of CHOPIN, MENDELSSOHN GODARD, SCRIABIN, SCHUMANN, LISZT, CLUCK, RUBENSTEIN, CZERNY, WEBER, others – Tacet

Josef Lhevinne barely now enjoys the immense repute he once held, a fame for beautiful piano playing that inspired Tchaikovsky to dedicate his 18 Pieces, Op. 72 to Lhevinne.

Published on May 31, 2010

The Welte Mignon Mystery Vol. XVI, Josef Lhevinne: His 1906/1911 European Interpretations = Sel. of CHOPIN, MENDELSSOHN GODARD, SCRIABIN, SCHUMANN, LISZT, CLUCK, RUBENSTEIN, CZERNY, WEBER, others – Tacet

The Welte Mignon Mystery Vol. XVI,  Josef Lhevinne: His 1906/1911 European Interpretations = SCHLOEZER: Etude de Concert in E-flat, Op. 1, No. 1; CHOPIN: Etude in B Minor, Op. 25, No. 10; Mazurka in D, Op. 33, No. 2; Etude in C Minor, Op. 25, No. 12; GODARD: Scherzo, Op. 107; MENDELSSOHN: Presto in F, Op. 7, No. 7; SCRIABIN: Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9, No. 2; SCHUMANN: Toccata in C Major, Op. 7; LISZT: Die Loreley; Reminiscences of Robert du Diable; GLUCK: Gavotte; RUBINSTEIN: Polka, Op. 14; Kamennoi-Ostrow, Op. 10, No. 22;  Barcarole in C Minor; Album de Peterhof; SCHULZ-EVLER: Arabeske on Waltzes from The Beautiful Blue Danube; CZERNY: Etude, Op. 740, No. 5; SGAMBATI: Quattro pezzi, Op. 18, No. 2; BEETHOVEN: Chorus of Dervishes from The Ruins of Athens; MOSZKOWSKI: Menuet in G Major; WEBER: Rondo: Perpetuum mobile – Josef Lhevinne, piano

Tacet 180, (2 CDs) 49:19; 57:56 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:


Josef Lhevinne (1874-1944), a star pupil of Nils Krysander and Vassily Safanov, barely now enjoys the immense repute he once held, a fame for beautiful piano playing that inspired Tchaikovsky to dedicate his 18 Pieces, Op. 72 to Lhevinne. He recorded twice for the Welte Mignon laboratories, first on 6 October 1906 and again 7 July 1911. The twenty-one selections provided on these reconstituted piano roll archives reveal a pianist of pearly taste and controlled rubato, virtually self-effacing except for the infinite varieties of color his palette can render effortlessly in the midst of an often cascading series of runs or double trills, as in Schulz-Evler’s treatment of the Strauss Blue Danube. The clarity of line perhaps dominates each piece, opening with Schloezer’s choppy etude and the staccato octave tempests in Chopin’s B Minor Etude. Even relatively light-weight bagatelles, such as Godard’s “En route” Scherzo or Czerny’s Octave-Etude, assume a golden glow–albeit glib in the sense of the illusion of effortless technique–from the nuanced tone that Lhevinne invests in everything he touches. Much of the music indeed falls into the toccata, encore, or etude category, like Mendelssohn’s fleetly punishing Presto or Schumann’s fierce Toccata, where not even Horowitz can quite exact the same liquid ferocity.

We quickly appreciate those cuts wherein Lhevinne’s gracious legato can assert itself: the Scriabin Nocturne for the Left Hand glistens with ornamental intricacy and erotic nuance; the Liszt song Die Loreley becomes a transparent barcarolle; and all of the music by Anton Rubinstein herein included, remembering as we do that Rubinstein led Lhevinne’s debut in the Emperor Concerto in 1889. The evanescent “Angelic Dream” (Kamennoi-Ostrow) from Op. 10 was no less a favorite of Josef Hofmann. The Gluck Gavotte from Iphigenie in Aulis (arranged Brahms), too, found acolytes in Hofmann and Elly Ney, but few who could evoke the rarified music-box of Lhevinne. The Beethoven Dervishes’ Chorus is that same colorful evocation that Liszt found appealing for his own Ruins of Athens Fantasia. Lhevinne makes his keyboard a veritable symphony orchestra. Both Sgambati and Moszkowski attempt to recapture galant impulses in their respective studies; and in both we can appreciate Lhevinne’s spartan use of pedal to achieve crystal effects. The massive Rubinstein Barcarole in C Minor proves rather a pretentious piece, too much imitating Chopin’s etudes, only managing to sound pompous in the attempt.

The Prelude in F Minor, Op. 75, No. 9 lights us up, if only because Rubinstein’s imitation of the Bach style has unbridled flair. 

For gracious charm we have the Mazurka in D by Chopin, a deft performance that makes us weep for more of these rhythmically ambiguous gems from Lhevinne. The Perpetuum mobile from Weber’s Op. 24 Sonata in C would find another speed fiend in Claudio Arrau; but Lhevinne adds no end of luster to the spirited pastiche he gives us in the midst of rushing 16th notes. The sudden splashes of sforzati impel us forward with demonic wrist-wrung energy. The term “oceanic” has been well applied to the C Minor Etude, the last of the Chopin Op. 25 set, and here Lhevinne has Zeus meet Poseidon for an urgent confrontation. Last, the Liszt arrangement of themes from Meyerbeer’s opera Robert le Diable, allows Lhevinne ample expression of his gifts in the bravura repertory, a moment of showmanship that seeks no apologies for its glamour and suave affirmation of the keyboard as both a stringed and percussive miracle.

[Remember that although Welte was by far the most sophisticated of the player piano-roll systems, and Tacet's CDs are the very best quality reproduction of them, we are still hearing these performers thru the efforts of the Welte recordists and editors, and how much of the actual original performances are now heard is open to question…Ed.]

–Gary Lemco




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