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Hyperion Records

APR5646 - Myra Hess – Historic Broadcast Recordings
Myra Hess performing at The National Gallery.

Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Release date: March 2007
Total duration: 64 minutes 45 seconds

Myra Hess – Historic Broadcast Recordings
No 1: Préambule: Quasi maestoso  [2'20]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 2: Pierrot: Moderato  [1'17]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 3: Arlequin: Vivo  [0'42]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 4: Valse noble: Un poco maestoso  [1'19]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 5: Eusebius: Adagio  [1'39]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 6: Florestan: Passionato  [0'58]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 7: Coquette: Vivo  [1'05]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 8a: Réplique: L'istesso tempo  [0'28]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 9: Papillons: Prestissimo  [0'47]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 10: ASCH–SCHA (Lettres dansantes): Presto  [0'37]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 11: Chiarina: Passionato  [1'02]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 12: Chopin: Agitato  [1'41]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 13: Estrella: Con affetto  [0'31]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 14: Reconnaissance: Animato  [1'38]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 15: Pantalon et Colombine: Presto  [1'03]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 16: Valse allemande: Molto vivace  [0'48]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 17: Paganini (Intermezzo): Presto  [1'20]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 18: Aveu: Passionato  [1'01]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 19: Promenade: Comodo  [1'47]  recorded 13 October 1950
No 20: Pause: Vivo  [0'21]  recorded 13 October 1950
Allegro non troppo  [11'38]  recorded 25 August 1942
with Griller String Quartet
Andante, un poco adagio  [8'28]  recorded 25 August 1942
with Griller String Quartet
Scherzo: Allegro  [7'34]  recorded 25 August 1942
with Griller String Quartet

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
This programme comprises two invaluable Myra Hess documents: the only known live sound recording from the famous wartime National Gallery concerts and a BBC recording which, although made in front of the red silence light and microphone, a process which she loathed, finds her on this occasion more than rising to the challenge.

For all the international acclaim heaped upon Myra Hess, the common perception of her at home was never that of a famed travelling virtuoso but rather, to the public at least, the archetypal English lady abroad. A false apprehension of course: Myra Hess, a woman of wit, warmth and humanity, was one of the most powerful and passionate romantic pianists of her era – as has become apparent from the release of many live recordings during the four decades since her death. And it is surely significant that the USA, home of countless, thrusting ‘clavier tigers’, welcomed her annually and ecstatically shortly after she made her debut there in 1922. On this occasion the eminent critic W J Henderson proclaimed, ‘She is a great pianist without limitation.’ Her sterling work, both at home and abroad, was rewarded in 1936 with the OBE – it seems she was the first instrumentalist to appear in the British Honours List.

When war was declared on 3 September 1939 Myra Hess was preparing for yet another extensive tour of the USA. Refusing to leave the UK, she quickly became involved in the work which made her name a legend, the midday concerts in the empty National Gallery, its contents having been spirited away to ‘a secure and secret location’. These concerts arose out of the musical void created by the closure, for ‘safety reasons’, of all theatres and concert halls across Britain. Hess was of the opinion that a weekly lunchtime recital in the centre of London might provide an oasis of cheer and consolation and so broached the idea to the National Gallery’s director, Sir (later Lord) Kenneth Clark. His immediate response was that there should be five concerts a week! Despite his enthusiasm Hess expected only a handful of friends to turn up to her inaugural recital given on 10 October 1939. In the event she performed a programme which included Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ Sonata and – need it be mentioned? – her transcription of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ on a piano loaned by Steinway before an audience of a thousand. The range of her work during the incredible six and a half years the series ran, much of it taken in preference to more lucrative engagements, was astonishing. It is said that she had a hand in the organization of all 1,698 concerts and to have made over 120 appearances – all while touring the UK. She enlisted the crème de la crème of British and visiting artists, the net result being untold numbers of the musically starved being given what they craved – in addition to a cheap lunch! – with the bonus of thousands of pounds being raised for the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund via the modest entrance fee of one shilling (5p). Her indefatigable work was promptly recognized by the award of a DBE in 1941 and the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal, presented by Vaughan Williams in the January of the following year.

That same year (1942) Myra Hess appeared with the Griller String Quartet in a performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet, a work they played several times during the series, the first dating from 24 October 1939, two weeks after the first concert. Thankfully for posterity, the 1942 performance was broadcast and survives in tolerably good sound; it is the sole surviving document of their work together. The Griller String Quartet proved to be the most indefatigable chamber ensemble during the run of the National Gallery concerts, a fact acknowledged by Myra Hess who insisted that they, rather than she, should be given the honour of the final recital in April 1946.

During and after the war years Myra Hess’s interpretative powers deepened. The 1950s witnessed many great performances before she became dogged by deteriorating health, in particular arthritis of the hands and a circulatory condition. From this halcyon period comes a BBC recording of her celebrated interpretation of Schumann’s Carnaval. As mentioned, Myra Hess found the recording process, be it for broadcast or commercial disc, an unsettling one, an experience which stifled spontaneity and dissuaded her from taking risks. However, in October 1950 she appears to have been able to cast most of her apprehensions aside and the result is one of her finest surviving solo piano interpretations, one which eclipses her 1938 HMV recording of the same work which was only arrived at after four very trying sessions.

Myra Hess (1890–1965)
Julia Myra Hess was the youngest child of a German Jewish family who had emigrated to London in the late 1840s. Musically gifted, she was, at the age of seven, the youngest pupil to receive the Trinity College of Music Certificate. She went on to study full time at the Guildhall School of Music before a Steinway Scholarship took her to the Royal Academy of Music. She made her formal debut in 1907 at the Queen’s Hall under the baton of a Mr Thomas Beecham, who had been hired for the occasion and apparently did nothing to hide his disdain for women pianists. Shortly afterwards she made her first Henry Wood Promenade Concert appearance playing Liszt’s Concerto No 1. During the early decades of her career she championed much contemporary music (Scriabin, Griffes, Bax, Bliss and Bridge), though she always appeared to have had a predilection for the Austro-German classics. During her last years her recitals comprising Beethoven’s last three sonatas, invariably concluding with a quiet spoken word or two to her audience, became long-awaited and hallowed occasions.

The Griller String Quartet (1928–1961)
The foremost string quartet of its time in the UK, the Griller membership remained unchanged throughout its long existence. Sidney Griller and Jack O’Brien (violins), Philip Burton (viola) and Colin Hampton (cello) first met in Lionel Tertis’s chamber music class at the Royal Academy of Music. Their first appearance in London in 1928 was greatly acclaimed and just two years later they were making their first European tour. All four joined the RAF at the outbreak of the war and were able to continue their collective career throughout the ensuing years, their ‘wartime duties’ being a ceaseless round of recitals throughout the UK entertaining both the troops and the public. They later became quartet-in-residence at the University of California at Berkeley (1949–1961). Beside the standard quartet repertoire the Griller String Quartet also performed much contemporary music, notably by Bax, Bliss, Milhaud and, above all, Bloch.

Bryan Crimp © 2007

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