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Hyperion Records

APR5672 - Grigory Ginzburg – His early recordings – 2

Recording details: Various dates
Moscow, Russia
Release date: May 2010
Total duration: 77 minutes 6 seconds

Grigory Ginzburg – His early recordings – 2
Toccata  [2'54]  recorded circa 1953
Fugue  [6'58]  recorded circa 1953
E major  [2'48]  recorded circa 1948
B flat major  [2'19]  recorded circa 1948

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
Grigory Ginzburg was only six when he found himself in Moscow standing before the celebrated pedagogue Alexander Goldenweiser. This was the man who, with Konstantin Igumnov and Heinrich Neuhaus, dominated Russian/Soviet piano tuition during the first half of the twentieth century. All three luminaries, in their markedly different ways, instilled a more disciplined approach to the keyboard after the excesses of earlier genera­tions. Remarkably, young Grigory’s studies had begun only a year or so previously in his native Nizhny Novgorod under the supervision of Sofia Barabeichik, sister of the pianist/conductor Issay Dobrowen. The Ginzburg family’s confidence in the still relatively young but hugely respected Goldenweiser was such that they had no qualms in entrusting their boy to him and his wife, Anna, for both his general and musical education. When Ginzburg père died suddenly, Goldenweiser unhesitatingly became the boy’s surrogate father. Within the caring and immensely cultivated environment of the Goldenweiser household, Grigory received regular piano tuition from Anna and met many noted musicians of the time, not least Felix Blumenfeld, Igumnov, Nikolai Medtner, Sergei Rachmaninov and Alexander Scriabin. This undeniably privileged up­bringing served to nurture the boy’s prodigious musical gifts and shape a burgeoning, charis­matic personality. It was a foregone conclusion that Ginzburg would join Goldenweiser’s class when he entered the Moscow Conservatoire in 1916, by which time the entire building was resonating with tales of a prodigiously gifted twelve-year-old. Ginzburg was still a student when he made his concert debut in Liszt’s E flat Piano Concerto with the newly formed, conductor-less Persimfans Orchestra. This team enjoyed such a close rapport that they toured extensively within Russia and the Ukraine before Ginzburg was eventually obliged to return to Moscow in 1924 to give his graduation recital and, as antici­pated, collect the Gold Medal. In that same year he gave his first Moscow solo recital, became a staff member of the Scriabin Institute and undertook postgraduate work with Goldenweiser.

It was inevitable that such an outstanding talent should be brought into a team of pianists being groomed to represent the USSR at the inaugural Warsaw Chopin International Com­petition of 1927. Ginzburg and his friend Lev Oborin, three years his junior, ultimately made the journey to Poland together with fellow entrants Dmitri Shostakovich and Yuri Bryushkov. Some were surprised when Oborin was awarded the first prize while the strongly favoured Ginzburg came fourth behind two Polish entrants Stanislaw Szpinalski and Rosa Etkin-Moszkowska. In hindsight, and with the advantage of comparing their subsequent Chopin recordings, the decision of the jury is understandable. While there is no question that both pianists are highly convincing ‘Chopinists’, Oborin is a relatively ‘straight’ interpreter – an approach which undoubtedly endeared him to the majority of the jurists – whereas Ginzburg’s Chopin is strikingly individual. On the strength of their successes, Oborin and Ginzburg toured abroad promoting the Soviet Union’s new-found supremacy, although travel soon became restricted to the USSR and its allied countries. Ginzburg was not heard in the West after the mid-1930s. He joined the staff of the Moscow Conservatoire in 1929 and was appointed full professor in 1935. Foremost among his pupils are Gleb Axelrod, a true reflection of his master and mentor, as well as Igor Chernyshev, Sergei Dorensky and Alexei Skavronsky. Ginzburg also devoted con­siderable energy to wider educational matters: he was President of the All-Russian Union of Music Teachers, was instrumental in estab­lishing a Conservatoire in Nizhny Novgorod in the early 1950s, and played a vital role in improving the quality of pianos in use through­out the USSR from the mid-1950s when Steinway instruments began to make a welcome appearance.

It has been stated that Ginzburg’s reper­toire was not as all-encompassing as that of some of his contemporaries, an opinion perhaps prompted by his avoidance of the more obscure contemporary Soviet repertoire that lesser pianists pursued in the hope of furthering their careers. In fact he regularly performed works by Myaskovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, although his support for ‘new’ Soviet music does appear to have stopped with Samuil Feinberg – the two became artistically and spiritually very close in their later years and Ginzburg was proud to premiere Feinberg’s Third Piano Concerto in 1956 – and Dmitri Kabalevsky, whose Second Piano Concerto he recorded on 78-rpm discs. (It is surely no coincidence that both Feinberg and Kabalevsky happened to be Goldenweiser pupils.) However, an examination of Ginzburg’s discography, comprising both studio and many incandescent live recordings, as well as his concert programmes reveals a far more rounded picture. There is no questioning his allegiance to the Russian repertoire, which embraced Arensky, Balakirev, Borodin, Glinka, Medtner, Anton Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky – and, despite his claims to have resisted Rachmaninov’s music on the strength that he could never approach the composer’s own performances, he did actually record both Suites and the six Duets with Goldenweiser. Ginzburg also had a fondness for Debussy and Ravel, delighted in Grieg and even explored Gershwin. His Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Chopin were all much admired but he is most highly regarded and keenly remembered on account of his magisterial Liszt playing. Although he was widely acknow­ledged to be the most refined technician of his generation within the USSR he was, para­doxically a ‘quiet’ player by nature. Surviving film reveals an apparently small, neat and compact figure, sitting very upright and seemingly dwarfed by his instrument. His only obvious gestures are balletic hand movements that effortlessly create, by turn, colossal power and feathery delicacy.

Ginzburg abhorred the Soviet communist system and yet, for much of his life and unlike some of his peers, he miraculously remained unscathed by its clutches. However, by April 1959 the bureaucracy at the Moscow Conserva­toire (then almost entirely in the hands of communist civil servants) had become so intolerable that Ginzburg tendered his resignation. If it was a gesture prompted more out of frustration than rebellion it was accepted with no attempt to persuade him to reconsider. Ginzburg’s only option it seemed was to begin anew with a series of extensive tours as far away from the intrigues of Moscow as was possible, but as he embarked upon this new phase in his career he suffered a heart attack. He made a remarkable recovery but when he recommenced his travels, it was with the knowledge that he had developed an inoperable cancer. Undaunted, he continued, his final triumph being a sensational tour of Yugoslavia in May 1961. He was dead before the end of the year. It was reported that such was his family’s resentment towards the Conservatoire’s administration that they refused to allow the civil funeral to take place at his alma mater, the very centre of almost his entire life, and the ceremony consequently took place in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall. It marked a bleak end to 1961: Goldenweiser and Ginz­burg, pianistic father and son, died within days of each other in a year that also witnessed the deaths of the charismatic Vladimir Sofronitsky and the Medtner crusader Abram Shatskes.

The first volume of APR’s survey of Ginzburg’s early recordings (APR 5667) was sourced from 78-rpm shellac and vinyl discs and had Liszt at its centre. The present programme, largely focused on Chopin, is derived from 78-rpm discs and an early LP. As mentioned above, Ginzburg’s Chopin is indisputably ‘individual’, sometimes startlingly so and nowhere more apparent than in his interpretation of the ‘Heroic’ Polonaise. The combination of rhyth­mic bite, whiplash runs and melting lyricism which Ginzburg brings to these familiar pages strips away the patina of familiarity and reminds us of the work’s innovative power and drama. If he considers the early Ninth Polonaise to be little more than a youthful showpiece, we enter a truly rarefied world with his interpretations of the four Impromptus which, along with his reading of the Op 25 Études, must rank as the pinnacle of his studio Chopin. Each impromptu has its own distinct character, its own specific narrative and all are defined with a near-mystical poetry.

Some authorities state that Ginzburg’s interpretations were never anything less than meticulously prepared, with nothing left to chance. Paradoxically, the major impression for most listeners will surely be that of music-making ‘on the wing’, a seemingly spontaneous and improvised creative flow. Perhaps much of the unusual freshness of Ginzburg’s recordings is due to his apparent wariness of ‘over recording’ in an attempt to achieve a note-perfect (and potentially sterile) interpretation. If such an approach occasionally results in a slip of the finger, it is of little concern when there is so much to savour. What technical mastery (including fabulous trills and glissan­di), what beauty of sound (never compromised when the technical demands are fearsome), and what an extraordinary dynamic range!

Apart from Chopin, this programme also surveys Ginzburg’s broad repertoire: the imperious splendour and immaculate voicing of Bach–Busoni, the fleet-fingered elegance of Weber and the warm yet unsentimental realization of Schumann’s poetry. Finally, what better way to conclude this survey than be astonished by Ginzburg’s inimitable sleight-of-hand in two familiar transcriptions of waltzes by Strauss the Younger? These teasing interpretations, by turn sensuous and seductive, glittering and dazzling, are nothing less than a masterclass in keyboard mastery.

Bryan Crimp © 2010

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