Classical Reissue Reviews

Fredric Lamond, piano = Program of BEETHOVEN, LISZT, CHOPIN & interviews – Marston Records

Producer Ward Marston allows us a rare journey into a precious, rich musical past as Scottish virtuoso Fredric Lamond performs Beethoven and plays and speaks of Franz Liszt with rare authority.

Published on July 10, 2013

Fredric Lamond, piano = Program of BEETHOVEN, LISZT, CHOPIN & interviews – Marston Records

Fredric Lamond, piano = BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 6 in F Major, Op. 10, No. 2: two movements; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”; Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3: two movements; Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 “Waldstein”; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata”; CHOPIN: Mazurka in C-sharp Minor, Op. 63, No. 3; Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 7, No. 3; LISZT: Transcendental Etude No. 5 “Feux Follets”; Liebestraume, S. 541, No. 2; Gnomenreigen; BONUS TRACKS: Lamond speaks about meeting Liszt; Lamond speaks about Liszt’s legacy – Fredric Lamond/ Concertgebouw Orch./ Eduard van Beinum – Marston Records 52071-2 (2 CDs) 77:37; 73:32 [Distr. by Norbeck, Peters & Ford] *****:

Fredric Lamond (1868-1948) remains for many collectors and connoisseurs of the piano the great Beethoven exponent prior to the advent of Artur Schnabel. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Lamond enrolled at age fourteen in Frankfurt’s Hoch Conservatory, ostensibly to study with Clara Schumann; but fate chose for Lamond the teacher Max Schwarz, who passed Lamond on to Hans von Bulow and then in 1885 to Liszt himself. In 1888, Lamond played in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he fell under the spell of another Olympian virtuoso, Anton Rubinstein. When Lamond died on 21 February 1948, he and Jose Vianna de Motta had alone survived of the Liszt pupils, and de Motta passed away some three months later.

This masterly assemblage by Ward Marston opens most serendipitously, proffering a rare Radio Hilversum broadcast (29 October 1939) of the Beethoven Third Concerto with the Concertgebouw Orchestra under the direction of Eduard van Beinum, certainly one of the earliest of that fine conductor’s documents.  Lamond reveals a strong singing line in Beethoven, prone to the long phrase and the kind of expressivity we associate with the Chopin or Henselt school. The transitions prove ductile and fluid, and despite reports to the contrary, Lamond seems in good technical shape at seventy-one years of age. The first movement cadenza comes courtesy of Clara Schumann, and it, too, combines a lyric and dramatic impulse that often recalls the stretti and elongated trills in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia. The second movement Largo enjoys a particularly rich serenity of spirit from Lamond, along with some fine bass string playing from the Concertgebouw. Lightness and gusto mark the last movement, with Lamond’s quick staccati and rounded arpeggios rife with wit and romance. Beinum’s attacks clearly mark the melodic periods in Beethoven, again with a breezy digtial insouciance that incorporates the Rondo form into a larger, cerebral whole. The move to Beethoven’s vivid counterpoint combines auditory pleasure – listen to those horns and winds that answer Lamond’s sturdy runs – with the more serious business of architectural acumen, and the result thoroughly delights us.

Lamond (6 March 1945 for the BBC) recalls, articulately and economically, that having played several Liszt pieces at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1885, it was requested that “I play some of these works for the Master himself.” Hans von Bulow, President of the Raff Conservatoire, and Lamond’s own teacher, Max Schwarz, facilitated the trip to Weimar, and Arthur Friedheim, Liszt’s secretary, assisted. Liszt lived in a villa, “a pleasant atmosphere of peace and culture, something of the spirits of Goethe and Schiller pervaded over the house.” There were two pianos, a Bechstein and an Eber upright. Seeing the man Liszt, Lamond recalls the “kiss of consecration” Liszt had received from Beethoven.  Here is the man who supported Berlioz and Wagner, the man who invented the symphonic poem, the inspirator who taught the great pianists, not only in France and Germany, but in Russia. “Tomorrow you play the fugue from [Beethoven’s] Op. 106,” said Liszt, and the interview “of that unforgettable Sunday morning” was at an end. Speaking of Liszt the teacher, Lamond remarks that “he could be strict, even severe with pupils. He held speed of playing in contempt. . .A poetical vision always arose before his mental eye.” Liszt cannot be classified. His is an influence, claims Lamond. Liszt never charged a fee to any of his pupils. Felix Weingartner said of Liszt, “He was the decentest of them all.” Lamond calls Liszt “the Good Samaritan of his day and generation.” These recollections lead to Lamond’s playing of the Liszt piece he had been working on at the time: the Feux Follets etude, which he plays (25 March 1945).  At seventy-seven, Lamond’s technique is less capable of this piece’s shimmering hurdles, but the poetic spirit remains despite the weakness of the flesh. Lamond then delivers us a sterling love song by and to Liszt, in the second of the Liebestraume.

With these words of veneration from Lamond in mind, I could audition his collaboration in the A Major Concerto (7 February 1937) with Beinum from the Concertgebouw, now bearing thoughts of Arthur Friedheim’s having played the orchestral part in Weimar for Liszt on a second piano. When Liszt expressed surprise and gladness, Friedheim acknowledged, “Yes, I know the orchestral part, and I love every note of it.” A contemporary – and originally skeptical – critic of the Lamond concert commented, “He plays Liszt beautifully! Without fuss.”  The performance has all of the essential Liszt ingredients: power, noble drama, exaltation, mystery, and unsentimental pathos. The audience, refusing to be placated without an encore, receives – as does posterity – a feline and supple realization of the Gnomeneigen Etude.

A serene chastity surrounds the Lamond legacy in Beethoven. And although I am averse to acoustic documents, the piano playing from the first of the Beethoven offerings, the Sonata No. 6 in F Major (rec. 7 November 1921), exhibits in its two movements liquid but steady motion, that “pureness, truth, and simplicity” which Lamond venerated above all practical considerations of life. The Presto quite dances in an ecstasy of layers, possibly including something of a highland fling. Lamond recorded the Moonlight Sonata between two sessions, 3 April and 16 June 1922. To our ears, the tempo of the opening Adagio sostenuto seems brisk, but the pulse is curved in ductile stone. More than most pianists, Lamond establishes a sound connection between this piece and Mozart’s own Fantasia in C Minor, K. 475. The interior ritards and agogics in the slight Allegretto prove subtle and piquant. Lamond moves precipitately into the furious Presto agitato, a gripping account, with surprising pearls in the chains of chords that otherwise assault us with seamless power. At 54 years of age, Lamond could command Blake’s tiger at will.

Only the two interior movements of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18, Op. 31, No. 3 are bequeathed us by Lamond (rec. 18 September 1923 and 16 June 1922), but they exhibit a light, playful character and potent spontaneity. Utterly gracious, as Beethoven indicates – Moderato e grazioso – this movement by Lamond preciously approaches the “music box” ideal without having become at all brittle. The controlled sforzati indicate the power Lamond refuses to unleash randomly. As per expectation, the Waldstein Sonata (rec. 16 June and 27 September 1922; 18 September 1923) permits Lamond his bravura self facets of license, but he never indulges any degree of self-serving exhibitionism. The various antiphons in the writing collide and converge with a sense of architecture and taste that could serve as a model for our more shameless virtuosos. The second subject of the Allegro con brio combines lyricism and exalted dignity most efficaciously. We hear in the Introduzione second movement the model for Schumann’s Intermezzo for his Piano Concerto. Its plastic last chords transition guilelessly into the magical Rondo movement, all pearls and cavorting thunder – or Coleridge’s “dancing rocks” -  artfully synthesized. The last pages will bring a grateful tear to the eye of those who appreciate the lithe spirit that underlies this otherwise brilliant showpiece within Beethoven’s sonata treasury.

The mighty Appassionata Sonata (18 September 1923) enjoys a directness of expression and almost grim determination we won’t hear again until Sviatoslav Richter. Lamond seems to embrace the relatively new “plain-spoken” aesthetic that Busoni and Hindemith (and Walter Gropius) espoused in terms of musical architecture. Still, the Neapolitan elements, including a singing melodic line, assert themselves throughout the Allegro assai. Here, more than in the other inscriptions, I feel the limits of the acoustic recording process, its thin resonance for the piano’s more voluptuous passages and solemn power in middle and low registers. Without any sentimental cloying, Lamond presents the Andante con moto as an eloquent and deeply felt theme and cantabile variations, which even the incessant swish of the acoustic shellacs cannot hide. The last movement, predictably, proffers from Lamond a veritable whirlwind, a breathless colossus of color and motion. If you lose your head during the last page, simply place your hat on your neck!

As a bonus unto itself, the British Archives allows Ward Marston two previously unreleased Chopin mazurkas which Lamond recorded for Decca 17 December 1941, a rather fateful day on several levels. Each of these mazurkas ably evokes the Polish national spirit, its simultaneous playful and militant character, as convincing as anything we have from the more heralded apostle, Ignaz Freidman. Wonderful interior voicings from Lamond, always informed by a slight hint of the Scottish influence, which Chopin himself would have relished.

Many thanks to producer Ward Marston and his major supporter, Donald Manildi of the IPAM archive, for a document of enduring musical history and aesthetic insight.

—Gary Lemco




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