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Hyperion Records

APR5531 - The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 1 – Vladimir de Pachmann, Aleksander Michalowski & Landon Ronald

Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Release date: September 1995
Total duration: 74 minutes 40 seconds

The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 1 – Vladimir de Pachmann, Aleksander Michalowski & Landon Ronald
Vladimir de Pachmann
No 22 in G minor: Molto agitato  [0'43]  recorded 1907
No 23 in F major: Moderato  [0'55]  recorded 1907
No 12 in C minor, 'Revolutionary': Allegro con fuoco  [2'57]  recorded 14 June 1909
Aleksander Michalowski
No 3 in A major: Molto allegro e vivace  [2'05]  recorded 1905
No 6: A minor  [3'28]  recorded 1905
No 20 in C minor: Largo  [1'40]  recorded 1905
No 7 in A major: Andantino  [1'28]  recorded 1905
Waltz in C sharp minor Op 64 No 2  [2'56]  Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)  recorded 21 September 1912
No 11 in E flat major: Allegretto  [2'42]  recorded 21 September 1912
Sir Landon Ronald
No 3, (abridged): A major  [1'24]  recorded 1900
No 4 in C major, 'Spinnerlied': Presto  [1'36]  recorded 1900

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited existed for no more than seven years yet during its brief life it was responsible for one of the most remarkable artistic and technical advances in the history of the gramophone. It was during this time that a few committed believers convinced a host of sceptical and suspicious luminaries that the gramophone should be looked upon as a valid artistic medium. The result was an astonishingly rapid metamorphosis: an expensive toy became one of the prime chroniclers of its age.

The story begins with The Gramophone Company Limited, formed in London in April 1898. This was the company which, just a few months after it came into being, employed a young American recording engineeer and talent scout called Fred Gaisberg. As the popularity of the gramophone gained a quite exceptional momentum, particularly in Britain, so Gaisberg and his fellow ‘recordists’ – as record producers were then known – set out on an unparalleled pilgrimage of exploration and documentation. It was largely due to their indefatigable efforts that The Gramophone Company was able to advertise the availability of no less than 5000 titles by December 1900. However, despite this runaway success the company’s managing director, William Barry Owen, was convinced the bubble would burst, to which end he decided to diversify into a totally unrelated field – the typewriter, in particular the Lambert typewriter, a machine which employed a rotating plate rather than the standard keyboard. A new company was consequently established in December 1900: The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited.

It was not long, however, before it became all too apparent that this particular exercise had been a major blunder; the Lambert machine proved to be as impractical as it was cheap. The magnitude of the flop resulted in Owen’s resignation as Managing Director in April 1904. Come February 1905, by which time Owen had also vacated the board room and returned to obscurity in his native America, The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited ceased the manufacture, sale and servicing of the Lambert typewriter. That the company survived this debacle was due entirely to the continuing success of the gramophone though it was not until November 1907 that the company dropped Typewriter’ from its name and reverted to being The Gramophone Company Limited. It was not, of course, the end of an era – indeed the gramophone went on to ever greater glories – though it was the end of what is commonly considered to have been the most adventurous and exotic period in the history of recording.

During the seven G&T years many sister companies were set up, notably in Germany, France, Russia, Austria and Spain. A magnitude of stellar names from across the globe were lured before the recording horn as moths to the dame. The briefest role-call of the great and glorious includes Melba, Patti and Calvé; Caruso, Figner and Tamagno; Battistini, Plançon and Chaliapin; Joachim, Sarasate and Kubelik; Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Grieg; Pugno, Diémer and Grunfeld; Eibenschütz, Janotha and Chaminade; even Carmen Sylva (H.M. Queen of Romania), H.I.M. Mouzaferedin Chan (Shah of Persia) and the Sistine Choir (including the castrato Moreschi).

The first G&T discs, seven inches in diameter, were launched in the UK in December 1900. Most of them were among the first records to benefit from a new process of manufacturing and duplication, this being the cutting of a ‘master’ into a wax blank as opposed to the cumbersome zinc-etched process. In October of the following year the first ten inch G&T discs, called ‘Gramophone Concert Records’, were released in Britain. Production of the twelve inch disc, the ‘Gramophone Monarch Record’, followed in the middle of 1903. Advertisements not only stressed the advantages of the larger diameter which ‘averaged about four minutes’ but revealed that ‘the less acute curve which the sound waves are called upon to traverse’ enabled ‘the sounds to be reproduced with even more exactness and truth to nature’.

The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited continued to employ the familiar ‘recording angel’ trademark which had first appeared on The Gramophone Company records in October 1898. Francis Barraud’s celebrated painting of ‘His Master’s Voice’ was first used on the company’s advertising material in January 1900 though Nipper, surely the most famous mongrel dog in history, did not begin to grace record labels until 1909.

Vladimir de Pachmann
Vladimir de Pachmann was the first pianist of international renown to be recorded in Britain. At the time he entered the recording ‘laboratory’ he was at the peak of his unique and volatile abilities. These recordings reveal exactly why de Pachmann was, for audiences throughout most of the Western world, the Chopin pianist of his era. Putting to one side the many quaint stories arising from his bizarre behaviour (behaviour which undeniably marred some of his later performances and recordings) we can savour on these discs playing of exquisite refinement and pearly delicacy, the like of which has yet to be equalled.

Although born in Odessa much of de Pachmann’s serious training took place in Vienna (his father was an Austrian amateur musician who claimed to have known intimately both Beethoven and Weber). Leaving the Vienna Conservatory with the Gold Medal in 1868 he returned to Odessa where he made many appearances to considerable acclaim though soon afterwards, dumbfounded by Carl Tausig’s command of the keyboard, de Pachmann quit the concert platform for further study. He reappeared briefly in public in 1878 though it was not until 1882 that he recommenced his career in earnest. Within a surprisingly brief time he was lionized throughout much of Europe and America by the public and musicians alike – there are reports that Liszt publicly embraced him in Budapest after a performance of a Chopin sonata. No other pianist has so colourfully and forcefully imprinted his personality upon the public as has Vladimir de Pachmann.

De Pachmann was one of that rare breed, a pianist born within Chopin’s lifetime who made records. Yet, for all his reverence for Chopin’s music – as he grew older he played Chopin to the exclusion of practically all else – the score was never sacrosanct. Indeed, on occasions it appears to be merely a reference point, as is apparent from some of the recordings included here. Nevertheless, there is an unquestionable stature surrounding de Pachmann’s Chopin playing while the Mendelssohn and Verdi-Liszt titles disprove the adage that his technique was, at best, only reliable.

The recorded repertoire
Vladimir de Pachmann is represented by all his surviving first recordings: six G&T titles [1–9] and four titles from his 1909 Sessions [10–13]. (The latter are commonly known as ‘pre-dogs’, namely discs released during the months subsequent to the demise of The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited and before the general appearance of the famous Nipper dog trade mark. Although catalogue numbers were allocated to two other 1909 titles – 05522 & 05525 – it would appear that they were never issued.)

The recordings are presented in chronological order. Improvements in sound quality are apparent between all sessions, marginally so in 1907, strikingly so between 1907 and 1909. If de Pachmann was not always at ease with the new-fangled recording process during the first session, he unquestionably comes into his own from the Chopin Barcarolle.

The artist is variously described on the record labels as ‘Mr. Vladimir Pachmann’, ‘Vladimir de Pachmann’ and ‘Mons. Vladimir Pachmann’.

Aleksander Michalowski
Like de Pachmann, Polish-born Aleksander Michalowski moved to Western Europe for his higher studies, first to the Leipzig Conservatory. where he was a pupil of Coccius, Moscheles and Reinecke, then, in 1869, to Berlin where he studied with Tausig. In the 1870s he returned to Poland settling in Warsaw which was to be his home for the rest of his life. His infrequent public appearances were, for the most part, confined to Poland; he considered his primary mission to be teaching. This he began in the mid-1870s though it was not until 1891 that he was appointed to the staff of the Warsaw Conservatory where he remained until 1918 when he moved to the Higher School of Music. During six decades of dedicated work Michailowski inevitably exerted a highly influential role both in the continuance of a Polish tradition of piano playing and the interpretation of Chopin. (He had sought out Mikuli, one of Chopin’s most famous pupils, as soon as he had returned to Warsaw from Germany. Chopin was to dominate his repertoire.) Among a vast number of pupils only Wanda Landowska and Mischa Levitzki (whose complete HMV recordings are assembled on APR 7020), plus Heinrich Neuhaus and Vladimir Sofronitzki, both of whom had some lessons from Michailowski, are commonly known.

Michalowski’s colossal technique is attributed to an exccptionally arduous and self-imposed practice regime when he was a young man though this was rarely put on display, with the notable exception of his dazzling transcription of Chopin’s Minute Waltz. Elsewhere Michalowski’s style is disconcertingly iconoclastic.

The recorded repertoire
Aleksander Michailowski’s first discs are among the rarest of early piano recordings. (It is unlikely that any collector has ever had the complete Michalowski G&Ts presented here.) Recorded during two sessions in late 1905 – the exact date is not known – they are here presented in chronological order [14 – 25]. Only one known title – Michalowski’s transcription of Chopin’s Minute Waltz – was repeated. For some reason both ‘takes’ were eventually published. Presumably the 3583 V2 ‘take’, which appeared under the same catalogue number but with the addition of an X suffix, was intended to replace the preceding ‘take’ perhaps because it is considerably faster – though it does contain a glaring finger slip. (It must be stressed that the difference in sound quality between these two versions of the Minute Waltz has nothing to do with the reason why two ‘takes’ were published: 3583 is the only track on this CD not to have been taken from the original dise but from a taped copy.)

Michalowski’s G&T discs were all manufactured in Russia: the labels proudly if succinctly proclaim his position as ‘Prof Warsz Kons’. Aside from much intriguing Chopin, they provide a unique opportunity to hear Michalowski in other repertoire be it the almost nonchalant panache of Schubert-Liszt or the relaxed bravura of Mendelssohn. The only obvious occasion when the primitive conditions under which these discs were made invades musical considerations is the repeat of the Chopin Prelude Op.28/7 [23] where, no doubt as a result of being signalled that he was Coming dangerously near to the end of the wax, Michalowski makes several abrupt increases in tempo. The last note is heard in the run-off groove.

Michalowski was next visited by The Gramophone Company in 1912. Although at least five Chopin works were recorded only two [24 & 25] were ever published. One of these is a repeat of an earlier title – the Waltz Op.64/2. A comparison with the earlier version [19] reveals a remarkably different interpretative approach.

Landon Ronald
When Fred Gaisberg first met Landon Ronald in 1900 he was quick to recognise a young man of exceptional dynamism and diverse musical talents. Ronald, only 17 when he made his first professional appearance as pianist in André Wormser’s run-away success, the pantomime L’Enfant Prodigue, was at this time also a talented violinist and a conductor of high promise. Equally important, Ronald enjoyed close connections with many famous musicians, not least Nellie Melba, Adelina Patti, Poi Plançon (and later) Kreisler and Elgar. It was due to Ronald’s enthusiastic support of Gaisberg’s aims and aspirations as well as his impressive contacts that so many musicians of stature capitulated to the gramophone. It is no coincidence to discover that Sir Landon (he was knighted in the 1922 New Year’s Honours List) became ‘Musical Advisor’ to The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited in the same year that he made these recordings. It was an appointment he retained until his death.

Landon Ronald’s posthumous reputation is largely that of a much-loved conductor, particularly of the Royal Albert Hall Sunday Concerts in London. Within the musical profession, however, he further demonstrated his remarkable versatility as an administrator (he was Principal of the Guildhall School of Music from 1910–1938), perceptive critic and composer – largely of popular songs, this, no doubt, being a gift inherited from his father, the celebrated Henry Russell who claimed to have been involved in the production of over 800 songs!

The recorded repertoire
Given Fred Gaiserg’s admiration of Landon Ronald’s many qualifies it comes as no surprise to discover Ronald being accorded the signal honour of recording the first G&T piano records in Britain. A clutch of discs were made in October of 1900, shortly after the two first met, specifically for the UK launch of the G&T label. Recording and manufacturing procedures were primitive in the extreme and, given the confines of the seven inch format, the chosen titles were almost invariably abridged.

Five of the ten published (seven inch) discs recorded in October 1900 conclude this anthology. The selection has largely been determined by sound considerations: it is almost impossible to find discs of this vintage with central holes accurately positioned, which accounts for the varying degree of ‘wow’. Despite this, and given the age of these recordings, the sound is surprisingly immediate. And how the twenty-seven year old Ronald relishes the challenge confronting him. Obviously no Michalowski or de Pachmann, he is nevertheless far from inhibited by the primitive conditions under which he had to work. These fearless assaults of the popular repertoire of the day must have made a considerable impact upon the very first generation of record buyers.

Landon Ronald also recorded some early solo piano titles for the Zonophone label as ‘M. Capper’.

Bryan Crimp © 1995

Other albums in this series
'The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 2 – Alfred Grünfeld, Raoul Pugno & Natalia Janotha' (APR5532)
The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 2 – Alfred Grünfeld, Raoul Pugno & Natalia Janotha
APR5532  Download only  
'The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 3 – Chaminade & Saint-Saëns' (APR5533)
The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 3 – Chaminade & Saint-Saëns
APR5533  Download only  
'The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 4 – Diémer, Eibenschütz, Hofmann & Backhaus' (APR5534)
The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 4 – Diémer, Eibenschütz, Hofmann & Backhaus
APR5534  Download only  
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