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Hyperion Records

APR5643 - Gina Bachauer – The first HMV recordings

Recording details: Various dates
HMV, United Kingdom
Release date: February 2005
Total duration: 76 minutes 5 seconds

Gina Bachauer – The first HMV recordings
Toccata  [6'22]  recorded 10 June 1949
Adagio  [5'11]  recorded 10 June 1949
Fugue  [4'25]  recorded 10 June 1949
Allegro  [13'18]  recorded 29 May 1951
with The New London Orchestra, Alec Sherman (conductor)
Larghetto  [5'51]  recorded 29 May 1951
with The New London Orchestra, Alec Sherman (conductor)
Allegretto  [10'14]  recorded 29 May 1951
with The New London Orchestra, Alec Sherman (conductor)

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.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Luisa Dorothea Bachaouer was born in Athens in 1910. (It has been established that the much-quoted birth date of 1913 is incorrect.) As a young teenager she informed her father that she would answer only to ‘Gina’ and from that time she became known professionally as Gina Bachauer. She acknowledged three profound influences during her formative years. The first, Woldemar Freeman, was a Polish-born Russian-trained pupil of Busoni who taught the young Gina from her early entry to Athens Con­ser­vatoire. After winning the Conservatoire’s Gold Medal in 1929, she was invited to study with Alfred Cortot in Paris where she made her French debut that same year. While remaining Cortot’s private pupil she also worked with Sergei Rachmaninov when­ever and wherever it was possible for the two to coincide.

Gina Bachauer resisted advances to stay in London after her British debut at the capital’s Aeolian Hall in 1932. On securing a gold medal at the 1933 International Contest for Pianists in Vienna she returned to Athens before moving to Egypt in 1937 where she remained during the Second World War, giving an estimated 600 concerts for the Allied Forces in the Middle East. She reappeared in England in 1945 and rapidly made inroads into London’s post-war musical scene. A sensational American debut in 1950 marked the start of her international career. Recognized as one of the most technically secure and intellectually rigorous pianists of her generation, she toured ceaselessly up to the time of her sudden death in 1976.

The first HMV recordings 1949–1951
It was Gina Bachauer’s UK agent, Ibbs & Tillett, then the foremost concert agency in the country, who first approached EMI in respect of their new-found artist. Writing in September 1948 to David Bicknell, then Manager of His Master’s Voice, Classical Division, Ibbs & Tillett enclosed press notices of ‘the young [she was, in fact, in her late 30s] Greek pianist who has made such an outstanding success in this country’. An invitation to hear her play at the Palace Theatre, London on 24 October with the New London Orchestra conducted by Alec Sherman was extended. It is not known whether Bicknell accepted the invitation but when Ibbs & Tillett advised him of Gina Bachauer’s UK engagements for March and April 1949, comprising some twelve appear­ances, mostly with the Hallé Orchestra, HMV were left in no doubt that a considerable career was in the offing. Lawrance Collingwood, who was producing some Hallé Orchestra sessions at this time, was consequently charged to ascertain Barbirolli’s personal opinion of the pianist. Collingwood’s report was inconclusive: apparently Barbirolli had yet to accompany Miss Bachauer though he had heard reports that she was a brilliant pianist but ‘rather temperamental … Barbirolli does not relish accompanying her’. (In the event, Bachauer and Barbirolli were soon to collaborate on a regular basis. There was considerable mutual admiration on both sides, as is evident from a letter Bicknell wrote to Bachauer in 1953 reporting that he had met up with Barbirolli who ‘was full of your praises when I saw him last week and, as he is a stern critic, you must have played well’. Not for nothing did Barbirolli refer to Bachauer as ‘Glorious Gina’.) By the end of March Ibbs & Tillett were confirming that ‘Madame Bachauer would be very happy to make a test record’ and offered the following repertoire suggestions: Brahms ‘Paganini’ Variations Book 2; Liszt Funérailles (with the observation that while Gina Bachauer’s usual playing time was ten minutes it could be reduced to nine-and-a-half minutes in order to fit it on to two 78 rpm sides); Bach–Busoni Toccata, Adagio and Fugue; plus a lengthy list of titles for future recording including music by Vivaldi (arr. Stradal), Reger, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky and Beethoven (Op 101).

Little more than a week later, on 9 April 1949, Gina Bachauer made her first recording, her producer being none other than Lawrance Collingwood. Funérailles was easily secured (in 8 minutes 45 seconds thanks to a 33-bar cut) though for some reason a scheduled recording of a Chopin Scherzo was abandoned. Just days later Ibbs & Tillett informed David Bicknell that the pianist was ‘very pleased [with the Funérailles recording] and is glad to know that you are likely to include it in the catalogue in the near future’. Indeed the record formed part of HMV’s June 1949 UK release schedule. That same month Gina Bachauer re-entered the studio to record one of her initial offerings, the Bach–Busoni Toccata, Adagio and Fugue as well as Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 12. The former was a work she played at many of her debut appearances; the latter frequently brought a recital programme to a triumphant conclusion. These recordings were released in the UK in May and October 1950 respectively.

After ‘legitimizing’ the fruit of these first sessions via a letter contract, signed by Bachauer in July 1949, there followed a wait-and-see period to assess the critical and commercial success of her four 78 rpm records. During this time she toured the UK, prepared for her imminent USA debut and coped with the sudden death in Egypt of her husband. It was her entry into the USA on 29 October 1950 which opened new and dazzling horizons. An excited Ibbs & Tillett relayed the news to EMI: ‘Gina Bachauer made a wonderful success at her New York recital on Sunday last, on the strength of which she has been engaged for the entire Autumn of 1951 for a tour of America … her notices are wonderful’. A month later, however, there were ominous rumblings. Ibbs & Tillett advised HMV that on the strength of her American success, Gina Bachauer had been approached by Decca ‘with the offer of a contract for release in America when she returns. She much prefers to remain with [HMV] and we hope therefore you can interest [RCA] Victor in her success’. David Bicknell duly discussed the matter with George Marek, Head of RCA’s Artists Department. With Decca’s foot still firmly in the door the decision was made, on the basis that the pianist now stood at the threshold of an international career, that Gina Bachauer would continue to be an HMV artist and, of considerable importance to her, that all her recordings would be guaranteed release in the USA by RCA Victor.

A new annual contract was consequently drawn up. Most significantly, it included orchestral titles in which her partners were to be the New London Orchestra conducted by Alec Sherman. Conductor and pianist had long been friends and musical collaborators – to the extent that Sherman had befriended her late husband and other family members. (Pianist and conductor were to marry on 21 November 1951.) Three sessions in May 1951 found Bachauer, Sherman and the orchestra he founded in 1941 assembled for the recording of two contrasting works, both pivotal to Gina Bachauer’s repertoire – Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Concerto and Busoni’s transcription of Liszt’s Rapsodie espagnole. (If the New London Orchestra was predominantly a chamber ensemble, augmented it cut a more than persuasive dash in Busoni’s multicoloured orchestration of Liszt.)

With the Mozart concerto – unadorned but far from plain thanks to Gina Bachauer’s noble simplicity – arranged across seven 78 rpm sides, the pianist was summoned to the studio to record an eighth side on 13 July (two Scarlatti sonatas which could not be included in this programme due to lack of space). It was, incidentally, during this visit that Gina Bachauer was asked to listen to the approved take of side 3 of the Mozart concerto: a wrong note had been spotted in the cadenza. She agreed that a correction was required and suggested that the cadenza be taken complete from take 2. Thus a new take was ‘concocted’: one of the first examples within EMI of tape being edited to ‘correct’ a performance. (It was only in the following year [1952], when EMI’s Abbey Road Studio abandoned 78 rpm waxes and recorded solely on tape, that tape editing became the norm.)

Gina Bachauer’s contract was extended annually up to 1959 when it was allowed to lapse though she continued to make the occasional one-off recording for EMI. In the 1960s she recorded a proportion of her standard concerto repertoire for Mercury and later there were isolated LP releases by Quintessence and Erato. But it was with HMV that Gina Bachauer established the foundation of her recording career. In the wake of the 78 rpm recordings contained on this CD, all subsequently released in LP format, came an impressive succession of LPs, not least concertante works by J S Bach, Fauré, Mozart (K271, K453 & K491), Rachmaninov (No 3), Saint-Saëns (No 2) and Tchaikovsky (No 1) together with some wide-ranging recitals.

Bryan Crimp © 2004

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