Classical Reissue Reviews

A Matthay Miscellany = Tobias Matthay, piano & his pupils/ Minneapolis Sym. Orch./ Eugene Ormandy (Honegger) – Appian Recordings (2 CDs)

Britain’s most esteemed pianist-pedagogue and his pupils come together in a broad spectrum of music performed with elegance, taste, and bravura.

Published on June 1, 2014

A Matthay Miscellany = Tobias Matthay, piano & his pupils/ Minneapolis Sym. Orch./ Eugene Ormandy (Honegger) – Appian Recordings (2 CDs)

A Matthay Miscellany = BACH: 2-Part Inventions, BWV 772-786; Beloved, Jesus, we are here (arr. Bartlett); Preambulum from Partita No. 5 in G; Gigue in G Minor; MATTHAY: Studies in the Form of a Suite: Prelude and Bravura; On Surrey Hills: Twlight Hills; Wind Sprites; Prelude No. 1 from Op. 16; 2 Monothemes, from Op. 13; SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22; Novelette in F-sharp Minor, Op. 21, No. 8; Glueckes genug from Op. 15; CHOPIN: Prelude No. 23 in F; SCHUBERT: Impromptu in A-flat Major, D. 899, No. 4; Impromptu in B-flat Major, D. 935, No. 3; VERDI (arr. LISZT): Rigoletto Paraphrase; J.STRAUSS (arr. GRUENFELD): Soiree de Vienne; GRIEG: Halling; DEBUSSY: 2 Etudes; TURINA: Danza de la secuccion; HONEGGER: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra; SCARLATTI: Four Sonatas; MOSCHELES: Etude in E Major; BRAHMS: Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 39, No. 15; PURCELL: Prelude in C Major; HAYDN: Allegro con brio from Sonata in D; JENSEN: Sehnsucht; HANDEL: Courante; BUCK: Prelude in C Major; HELLER: Prelude in C-sharp Minor; Study in C Minor; BREWER: The lonely stranger; MOZART: Fantasie in D Minor, K. 397; Prelude and Fugue in C Major, K. 394; BORODIN: Au couvent; SWINSTEAD: Valse gracieuse – Tobias Matthay, piano & his pupils/ Minneapolis Sym. Orch./ Eugene Ormandy (Honegger) – Appian Recordings APR 6014 (2 CDs) 77:21, 79:55 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****: 

This final volume of APR’s Matthay Pupils series – produced and restored by Mark Obert-Thorn – presents most of his remaining students who left recordings, as well as the few discs Matthay himself made. Of particular interest is a selection from the almost unknown AFMC label which was affiliated to Matthay’s school and featured many of its staff. Also included are recently discovered unpublished Irene Scharrer recordings which add considerably to her discography. Tobias Matthay (1858-1945) stands among the most influential of Britain’s music pedagogues, having taught Harriet Cohen, Irene Scharrer, Myra Hess, and Moura Lympany.  This volume introduces us to rare and unissued recordings made by several of his other pupils, including elusive documents cut for the Anglo French Music Company (AFMC) between 1923-1928. Matthay himself appears in two sets of recordings made, respectively, in 1932 and 1923, devoted to his own music.

Flexibility, ease, speed and strength were the professed Matthay virtues, and his opening flurry of notes, his Op. 16 Prelude and his Bravura exhibit these fleet and shapely virtues, the latter in scintillating scales. The two character pieces from the same 16 November 1932 session are brief mood pieces in the manner of Grieg. The set concludes with Matthay’s acoustic 1923 inscriptions of three pieces which seem to meld Bach’s spirit with that of the “Aeolian” element in Mendelssohn. Irene Scharrer (1888-1971) plays the Schumann G Minor Sonata (4 March 1924) and one gossamer Chopin Prelude, that in F Major (28 October 1925), The acoustic Schumann suffers sonic limitations, but Scharrer reveals a firm and blistering technique capable of large gestures played “as fast as possible,” sans repeats. The second movement has disappeared, and the final movement Rondo is incomplete, ending at measure 134. The Schubert Impromptu in A-flat Major (12 May 1930), like the other recordings, has its first publication here. Listening to her fluid Schubert, we might attribute the lithe playing to Josef Hofmann.

Raie Da Costa (1905-1934) had a reputation as a Liszt and Chopin specialist, often indulging in improvised settings of popular music by Gershwin, Porter, and Kern. Her two 13 June 1930 inscriptions – of the Rigoletto paraphrase and the Gruenfeld arrangement of Johann Strauss, Jr. – testify to a large vision and natural arioso in her musical line. A medical blunder caused her premature death, as one would later claim Emanuel Feuermann.  Ethel Bartlett (1896-1978) appears solo – as does her partner Rae Robertson – in Walter Rummel’s adaptation of Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (rec. 23 December 1929), whose chaste lyricism might be construed as having issued from Myra Hess or Wilhelm Kempff. Robertson ((1893-1956) appears in three rare Parlophone items, all recorded in 1925: a brief Purcell Prelude in C; a brilliantly hectic opening movement from Haydn’s Sonata No. 37 in D; and the Sehnsucht, Op. 8, No. 5 of Jensen. The Haydn rivals the Solomon recording for sheer, unbridled dash.

Matthay’s special ward Denise Lassimonne (1903-1994) performs 15 Two-Part Inventions of Bach (23 September 1941), a recording lucky to have survived at all; but her American students transported the shellac test pressings to the International Piano Archives at Maryland. Listen to the power and clear bass articulation in the D Minor Invention, No. 4. The E Major Invention, on the other hand, conveys luminous mystery and subtle layering of colors at every turn. The A Minor (No. 13) is pure magic. The Mozart Prelude and Fugue, K. 394 (13 June 1941) inscribed for Decca reveals a Romantic sensibility in the Prelude, though the Fugue passes into fluid legatos without her applying the pedal. Ernest Lush (1908-1988) came to be noted as an accompanist of the likes of Fritz Kreisler. The Grieg Halling, Op. 72, No. 4 (25 October 1955) gives us a rare three minutes of heavy-footed mountain music. Adolph Hallis (1896-2987) was the first to record the complete set of Debussy’s Douze Etudes, in 1938. Two of them appear (from 3-5 February 1938), that for repeated notes and that for opposed sonorities. These are modernist conceptions of avant-garde music, legato vs. staccato and passing dissonances, that often reflect the experimental spirit of the times.  Harriet Cohen ((1895-1967), inamorata of Arnold Bax, plays for the British Armed Forces (16 July 1945) an otherwise unrecorded Danza de la seduccion, Op. 55, No. 2 of Turina, a gypsy concoction in 3/8 which receives alluring rhythmic license from Cohen, her keyboard easily suggestive of flamenco guitars.

Eunice Norton (1908-2005) of Minneapolis had been a Matthay student for eight years before she went on for studies with Artur Schnabel in Berlin. She and Eugene Ormandy combine (15 January 1935) for the 1924 Concertino by Honegger, a work Oscar Levant later championed.  Against the piano’s parlando, all sorts of bluesy and jazz filaments evolve in the orchestral tissue. Norton sports a refined, athletic technique, and her Ravel Concerto in G, had she recorded it, would likely have been spectacular. Moscow-born Nina Milkina (1919-2006) studied with Denise Lassimonne, specializing in the miniaturists, like Scarlatti, Haydn, and Chopin. Milina plays four Scarlatti Sonatas (rec. June 1958) issued by Westminster. Her G Major, Kk 125 sets a palpably impish, breezy tone for the set, Lovely legato playing informs the Kk. 208 in A Major. Deft performances of the D Minor KK. 396 and D Major Kk. 29 sonatas complete the short tour. Bruce Simonds (1895-1989), first president of the American Matthay Association, became Dean of the Yale School of Music. His Schubert B-flat Major Impromptu from a private Carillon Records issue (1950s) reveals from the outset a deeply refined, sensitive colorist, The Carillon label, privately underwritten, once proffered eleven volumes to celebrate Simonds’ rare artistry. Ray Lev (1912-1968), remains noted for her fine work for the Concert Hall Society label, whose 1952 issue of Schumann here gives us the largest, most meandering of the Op. 21 Novelettes. Lev proves an electric performer, rife with rhythmic acceleration and tonal nuance. This rendition rivals and surpasses the famed reading by Beveridge Webster.

Egerton Tidmarsh (1898-1979) has only the Preambulum from Bach’s Partita No. 5 in G and the Moscheles marcato Etude in Major (August 1923) to represent his elegantly vigorous style. Desiree MacEwan (1902-1990) recorded 21 discs for AFMC, of which her Brahms Waltz in A-flat and Bach G Minor Gigue from the English Suite No. 3 (March 1923) demonstrate sensitivity and clarity of line as her major assets. Dorothy Howell (1898-1982) performs three pieces in 1925 that elucidate her repute as a master pianist: a Courant from Handel’s Suite No. 4; A prelude by Percy Buck, “Marnic,” celebrating his daughter-in-law; and Heller’s C-sharp Minor Prelude, Op. 81, No. 10, played as a gilded fantasy in exotic colors. More Heller (abridged) from 1923, inscribed by Margaret Portch (1894-1974) in the form of a controlled yet potent Study in C Minor; then, an elastic, unsentimental reading of Brewer’s The lonely stranger testifies to a charming colorist. Hilda Dederich (1901-1969) became a Director at TMPS and a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Her 1925 Mozart Fantasia in D Minor for Parlophone generates a nervous energy quite impressive in its muscular and diaphanous contours. Au couvent, a movement from Borodin’s Petite Suite, recorded in 1923, offers a bell-like series of chords that gain color and nuance as they proceed. Anotehr Matthay pupil, Felix Swinstead (1880-1959) composed the Valse gracieuse that Dederich plays (in 1925) affectionately, The Schumann excerpt from Kinderszenen floats a lovely cantabile line for posterity.

For the collector of historical recordings, this set represents a true labor of love for a great British pedagogue and his devoted acolytes, many of whom bore star status entirely their own.

—Gary Lemco

 




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