Classical Reissue Reviews

Moura Lympany, piano: The HMV Recordings 1947-1952 = Works of CHOPIN, BRAHMS, SCHUMANN, LISZT, DEBUSSY, GRANADOS, ALBENIZ, PROKOFIEV, SHOSTAKOVICH, MENDELSSOHN, FRANCK, TURINA, LITOLFF (some with orch.) – APR (2 CDs)

British piano virtuoso Moura Lympany’s elegant work for HMV finds a fine tribute in this collation of her solo and concerted performances.

Published on October 7, 2013

Moura Lympany, piano: The HMV Recordings 1947-1952 = Works of CHOPIN, BRAHMS, SCHUMANN, LISZT, DEBUSSY, GRANADOS, ALBENIZ, PROKOFIEV, SHOSTAKOVICH, MENDELSSOHN, FRANCK, TURINA, LITOLFF (some with orch.) – APR (2 CDs)

Moura Lympany, piano: The HMV Recordings 1947-1952 = CHOPIN: Fantasy Impromptu; SCHUMANN: Etudes symphoniques, Op. 13; Vogel als Prophet, Op. 82, No. 7; BRAHMS: Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Book II; Intermezzo in B-flat Minor, Op. 117, No. 2; LISZT: Feux follets; Les Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este; Polonaise No. 2 in E; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; DEBUSSY: Clair de Lune; Ravel: Toccata; GRANADOS: The Maiden and the Nightingale; ALBENIZ: Tango in D; PROKOFIEV: Toccata, Op. 11; SHOSTAKOVICH: 3 Fantastic Dances, Op. 5; MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 25; Rondo brilliant in E-flat, Op. 29; FRANCK: Symphonic Variations; TURINA: Rapsodia sinfonica; LITOLFF: Scherzo from Concerto symphonique No. 4 – Moura Lympany, p./ London Sym./ Herbert Menges (Mendelssohn Op. 29)/ Philharmonia Orch./ Rafael Kubelik (Mendelssohn Op. 25)/ Walter Susskind (Franck, Turina, Litolff) – APR 6011 (2 CDs), 79:10, 79:05 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Audio restorer Seth Winner, in cooperation with Donald Manildi, has compiled the HMV recordings of Dame Moura Lympany (aka Mary Johnstone, 1916-2005), the distinguished British concert pianist. Along with Myra Hess, Lympany exemplifies the practical wisdom of pedagogue Tobias Matthay, who refined her fine fluency and natural proportion of expression. Perhaps the works most often associated with Lympany’s love of the Russian repertory are Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto and the Rachmaninov Preludes, the latter of which she became the first to record in their entirety, a feat she performed thrice. Always insisting on fidelity to the composers’ intentions, Lympany rarely made her playing the focus of listeners’ attention. “I never went in for chi-chi phrasing or powdered rubato,” expressed her artistic credo.

Stamina, resilience, and diaphanous grace converge in the Lympany style, certainly evident in her Romantic  repertory, as in Schumann’s knotty Symphonic Etudes (21 March 1950), complemented by an alluring, if evasive, “Prophet-Bird” from Waldszenen (28 November 1950).  Lympany executes (19 December 1947) only Book II of the massive Brahms Paganini Variations, but they reveal a colossal technique coupled with the ability to clarify dense vertical lines. Lympany’s prowess in this piece reminds me, sans invidious comparison, of Gina Bachauer’s mighty inscription. The opening selection, Chopin’s familiar Fantasie-Impromptu (3 November 1952), receives an unmannered, clear reading that eschews emotional distortion.  The Brahms Variations find their persuasive complement in the B-flat Minor Intermezzo, played with rainy-day nostalgia that makes us wish we had a complete Op. 117. 

A significant Liszt group opens with the translucent Feux follets Etude (26 April 1949), silken and scintillatingly articulate. The Lympany fluency of style proceeds to address the beguiling Les Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este (22 December 1947), a combination of glass crystal and shimmering light, prosaic only in that it does attempt digital transcendence.  The stentorian Polonaise No. 2 in E Major (26 April 1949) proves assertive and virile, tautly etched in bold strokes, the trills pellucid. If the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (16 June 1952) does not convulse in the manner of Gyorgy Cziffra’s renditions, it certainly exceeds anything like matter-of-factness. Perhaps the sense of technical repose “infects” the performance, making it “tame” by more bravura standards. Disc one concludes with the ubiquitous Debussy Clair de Lune (3 November 1952), whose nocturnal reverie almost evaporates into intimate rapture.

Almost a counter-claim to Lympany’s “tame” virtuosity, Disc Two vibrates with unbridled bravura. The Ravel Toccata from Le Tombeau de Couperin (26 April 1949) exhibits luminous fluency. The equally punishing Prokofiev Toccata, Op. 11 (12 December 1950) sizzles with a frenetic, percussive haste that eschews any technical comfort zone. From Granados’ suite of Goyescas, we hear an amorous nocturne in The Maiden and the Nightingale, played with expressive ardor. The Albeniz Tango in D as arranged by Godowski (3 November 1952) projects its own sultry eroticism by way of strummed guitars. The solo-piano group concludes with the Three Fantastic Dances of Shostakovich (12 December 1950), playful, mercurial, and disingenuous. In three minutes of “modernism,” Lympany convinces us that she thrives in her element.

Lympany joins the volatile Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik for a seamless performance of the glittery virtuoso showpiece, Mendelssohn’s G Minor Piano Concerto (3 October 1948) from the HMV line of LP records.  A refreshing sincerity manages to come through its admittedly shallow emotional patina, and the musicians – including the excellent Philharmonia Orchestra players – appear to enjoy their respectively energetic contribution. The equally quicksilver Rondo brilliant in E-flat Major by Mendelssohn (3 June 1952) has Herbert Menges at the podium. Commentator Bryce Morrison calls this collaboration a “life-affirming” moment of scintillating musicianship. Of weightier import, Franck’s Symphonic Variations (20 June 1949, from another in the HMV series) features Walter Susskind at the helm of the Philharmonia Orchestra. We might note that Lympany openly admired French/German pianist Walter Gieseking, having refused to record the Debussy Preludes because she felt any rival to Gieseking’s inscription would be superfluous.  Yet her account of the Franck projects the same, lucid seriousness of purpose as that master’s various renditions, studied, plastic, and elegant at once.  A different order of voluptuous evocation enters with Turina’s 1931 Rapsodia sinfonica, Op. 66 (20 June 1949), again led by Susskind. Rarely have the Andalusian melodies, scored for piano and orchestra strings, sounded so luminous. The second half of the piece is a brilliant rondena rife with guitar effects that alternate ¾ and 6/8 with canny fluency. Finally, a Lympany staple – which she recorded several times, including in concert with Arthur Fiedler in 1970 London – the scintillating Litolff Scherzo (20 April 1948), once more with a sympathetic Walter Susskind.  The cascades and arpeggios literally roll off the keyboard in dazzling panoply, with a “present” sound restoration from Seth Winner that makes us feel that Lympany’s generous talent remains very much with us.

—Gary Lemco




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