Please wait...

Hyperion Records

APR6002 - Simon Barere – The complete HMV recordings 1934–1936

Recording details: Various dates
HMV, United Kingdom
Release date: February 2005
Total duration: 123 minutes 41 seconds

Simon Barere – The complete HMV recordings 1934–1936
Simon Barere (piano) for the price of 1 — Download only  
Valse oubliée No 1 S215/1  [2'28]  Franz Liszt (1811-1886)  recorded 7 December 1934
Rapsodie espagnole S254  [11'47]  Franz Liszt (1811-1886)  recorded 10 December 1934
Waltz in A flat major Op 42  [3'23]  Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)  recorded 30 January 1934
Islamey 'Oriental fantasie' Op 18  [8'02]  Mili Balakirev (1837-1910)  recorded 31 January 1936
No 1: Allegro  [2'35]  recorded 15 October 1935
No 1 in C sharp minor: Étude  [3'03]  recorded 27 November 1934
No 12 in D sharp minor: Patetico  [2'10]  recorded 15 October 1935
No 12 in E major, (after Loeillet): Gigue  [3'12]  recorded 10 December 1934
No 6 in E minor, (after Rameau): Tambourin  [2'50]  recorded 10 December 1934
Toccata in C major Op 7  [4'26]  Robert Schumann (1810-1856)  recorded 31 January 1936
No 12 in D sharp minor: Patetico  [1'55]  recorded 7 December 1934
Islamey 'Oriental fantasie' Op 18  [8'19]  Mili Balakirev (1837-1910)  recorded 15 October 1935
Toccata in C major Op 7  [4'20]  Robert Schumann (1810-1856)  recorded 15 October 1935
Toccata in C major Op 7  [4'25]  Robert Schumann (1810-1856)  recorded 10 October 1935

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  EnglishFrançais
Few would contest that the last golden age of piano playing was inaugurated by Godowsky, Hofmann, Lhevinne and Rachmaninov. All four were colleagues, contemporaries, émigrés and ‘super-pianists’ who, via their individual and strongly contrasting styles, transformed the USA during the 1920s and 1930s into one of the world’s great pianistic Meccas. Their achieve­ments were consolidated by a second generation of stellar pianists, another quartet, of whom Horowitz is the most keenly remembered. The others are unaccountably neg­lec­ted: the always-astounding Ignaz Friedman, the mercurial Mischa Levitzki and, for long the most misrepresented of them all, Simon Barere.

That Barere’s extraordinary gifts did not make a deeper, more lasting impression upon the annals of twentieth-century piano playing is understandable if not forgivable. For all his formidable virtuosity, exceptional even in an exceptional age, Barere remained throughout his tragic lifetime an unusually modest, humble and self-effacing figure, a man who eschewed publicity. He also faced unprecedented set­backs and died, like Levitzki and Friedman, prematurely, so leaving little for posterity. In addition to the live Carnegie Hall performances there is only a relatively small number of studio recordings the majority of which were made for HMV between 1934 and 1936. This modest legacy, however, forms nothing less than a benchmark in the recorded history of piano playing.

Simon Barere was born to a poor Jewish family on 1 September 1896 in Odessa, the eleventh of thirteen children. The only glimmer of any musical inclination within the family had been when two of Barere’s elder brothers taught themselves enough of music’s rudiments to eke out a living as café and restaurant musicians. It was they who guided their brother’s first keyboard explorations though most of the boy’s elementary instruction was provided by an inter­ested neighbour. The full magnitude of what was obviously an innate and extra­ordinary keyboard facility only became apparent when Barere’s father died pre­maturely. The boy was able to help support ‘his mother, his sisters, and himself from the age of eleven by playing in silent movie houses, Jewish bands, Italian bands, restaurants, etc.’

He was accepted for more serious study by the Odessa Imperial Music Academy just a few years behind another local lad who ‘made good’, Benno Moiseiwitsch. When Barere was sixteen his mother died. Respecting her wishes that he should seek the best possible musical training, he placed his two younger sisters in the care of friends and set out for St Petersburg. Legend has it that when he arrived unannounced at the Imperial Con­servatory, late one wet November evening, he was confronted by a stout, somewhat florid gentleman who demanded to know exactly what he was up to. On completing his explanations, the interrogator demanded that he should play something. Barere’s party pieces, Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase and Chopin’s C sharp minor Etude, had an alarm­ing effect: the stout gentleman – Glazunov, of course – hauled him off to the piano department and insisted there and then that the impromptu programme should be repeated, this time for the benefit of Annette Essipova and Isabella Vengerova, two of the Conservatory’s fiercely formidable and highly competitive Piano Professors. The legend concludes by suggesting that the two ladies practically came to blows as they sought possession of the young phenomenon.

Not for the first time, Glazunov, the enlight­ened Director of the Imperial Con­servatory, side-stepped the many regulations that were intended to prevent Jews from gaining an entrance. Indeed, throughout his years at St Petersburg, Barere had the benefit of Glazunov’s unstinting consideration and thoughtfulness. From the very outset it was acknowledged that Barere’s art was, to all intents and purposes, already formed and so he was spared the Conservatory’s rigorous regime of theory and counterpoint, musical history and analysis. Furthermore, Glazunov ensured that Barere remained at the Conservatory for seven years, far longer than the norm, so protecting him from compulsory Army con­scription and possible slaughter. When Barere graduated in 1919 he took with him not only the prestigious Rubinstein Prize but Glazunov’s ringing endorsement ‘Barere is Franz Liszt in one hand and Anton Rubinstein in the other’.

At the Conservatory, Barere was assigned to Essipova. One of the most dazzling yet grace­ful pianists of her era, she, perhaps more magically than any other pianist of her time, combined a remarkable technical facility with a deeply poetic manner of expression. It was undoubtedly while under her influence that Barere developed fully his extraordinary gift to dispense supercharged virtuosity with mini­mum effort. On Essipova’s death in 1914 Barere completed his studies with Felix Blumen­feld (also tutor to Horowitz). It was Blumenfeld who imposed upon Barere a style of playing that was both sensual and lyric, one that emanated from a technique of the utmost refinement and which laid particular emphasis upon clarity of fingerwork and a wide tonal palette.

During his time at the Conservatory Barere had to contend with other matters, not least the support of his entire family. Playing in restaurants gave him little time to practise but then ‘he practised very little all his life, to the amazement of his colleagues and all who knew him. Even before his Carnegie Hall recital, which always was the first performance of the season, he used to quit playing the piano altogether three or four weeks before “in order not to become musically and emotionally stale”, as he always said.’

On leaving St Petersburg, Barere began his career as a travelling virtuoso while assuming the post of Professor of Piano at Kiev Conservatory. In the following year (1920) he married a fellow St Petersburg pupil, Helen Vlashek. Predictable early success was soon soured by a protracted period of reversals, the most frustrating of which was a ban on touring outside the Soviet Union. It was not until 1928, when the Soviet government sent him as a cultural ambassador to the Baltic and Scan­din­avian countries, that Barere had the oppor­tunity to make Riga his base, from where he began the tortuous process of securing the release of his wife and young son Boris. Eventually the family were reunited and in 1932 they moved to Berlin, a disastrous move given the intensification of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. Soon life was nothing less than a case ‘of plain survival. For example, he had to play in Berlin and Hamburg on vaudeville stages, between dog acts, jugglers, and wire­walkers, under an assumed name for money to live on, while waiting for his 1933 concert tour to begin.’ No tour was forthcoming and, in desperation, the Barere family ‘fled to Sweden where my mother had to support us with her piano recitals and some pupils. My father became emotionally ill and could not play for close to a year and a half’.

The first true success of Barere’s adult life came in January 1934 when his British debut at the Aeolian Hall created such a stir that he was immediately whisked into HMV’s recording studios. In that same year Barere made his British concerto debut – the Tchaikovsky First Concerto conducted by Beecham – and under­took an extensive tour of the British Isles. Gradually more and more invitations began to arrive, including one from the Baldwin Piano Company which ultimately took him to the USA. The acclaim that greeted Barere’s American debut at the Carnegie Hall on 9 November 1936 was such that the Barere family settled in America. Increasing American involvement in the Second World War meant that the prevailing artistic conditions during the early-1940s were far from easy but at least Barere had established a foothold in a welcoming and appreciative environment. The late-1940s were his finest years: he toured Australia, New Zealand and South America and his Carnegie Hall appear­ances were regarded by the cognoscenti and critics alike as ‘events’. In March 1951 Barere entered the studios of the Remington Company, his first recording session since 1936. At long last he stood on the threshold of something that had so long been denied him – international recognition.

It was not to be. On 2 April 1951 Barere was scheduled to appear at the Carnegie Hall in New York to play his first-ever performance of the Grieg concerto as part of an all-Scan­dinavian concert given by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Nothing seemed amiss as Barere stepped briskly to the piano, seated himself and awaited Ormandy’s down-beat, yet the critic Olin Downes that night filed one of the most poignant reports of his entire career: ‘Mr Barere seemed to be in top form. His entrance solo was brilliantly delivered. But presently this writer was puzzled by the pace of his performance which seemed excessively fast. Then comes the passage after the violon­cellos have announced the second theme of develop­ments discoursed between the piano and the orchestra. A moment later it seemed as if Mr Barere were bending over to one side, listening with special attention to the instru­ments as he matched his tone with theirs. In another moment his left hand fell from the key­board and in another second he fell senseless from the stool to the floor. The orchestra stop­ped in consternation, someone shouted from the stage for a doctor, and with some difficulty the unconscious man was carried from the stage.’

Barere had succumbed to a ‘spontaneous cerebral haemorrhage’. Olin Downes’s New York Times report also contained what remains, in many respects, the most accurate and perceptive assessment of Barere’s art: ‘There was no more modest, studious and sincere artist. Others sought the limelight more aggressively, Mr Barere was concerned with only one thing, the humble service of music. He had a prodig­ious repertory, a prodigious technique. It may be added that he was a prodigious musician, which is not necessarily the same thing. His knowledge was such that many pianists, great and small, sought his counsel as coach and teacher. He leaves not only a great but enviable reputation behind him.’

The recordings
Simon Barere’s HMV recordings were made during ten sessions over a period of exactly two years between 1934 and 1936. (They were recorded as ‘Simon Barer’. The pianist requested that an extra ‘e’ be added to his name – HMV were advised in 1942 – in order that his name be pronounced ‘Bah-rare’.) Their complete genesis is charted in the accompany­ing discography. It will be noted that on more than one occasion Barere had second thoughts about some of his recordings after they had been published. The Liszt Don Juan Fantasy, for example, was recorded during the first two sessions in January 1934. Barere remained dissatisfied with the results though it was not until two years later that he decided to repeat the title (Session 10). This later version was chosen for publication though once issued Barere had misgivings about the third side (2EA 3075) and requested that the third side of the earlier version (2B 5592) be substituted. Similar reconsiderations affected the Bala­kirev Islamey, Schumann Toccata and Scriabin Etude in D sharp minor recordings (even though the latter was published only in America). In all these instances Barere’s final wishes have been included in the main body of this anthology. The alternative (and first) pub­lished performances appear as an appendix.

The publication of the LP version of this anthology in 1986 brought to light a further discovery. Two rejected takes (2EA 2442-1 Schumann Toccata and 2EA 2443-2 Chopin Mazurka) were used, presumably erroneously, to manufacture the first commercial pressings of DB 2674. These have subsequently been added to this CD anthology.

The performances
Barere’s choice of Liszt’s La leggierezza to com­mence his series of HMV recordings was deliberate: this, perhaps the ultimate challenge in leggierissimo technique, was his calling card. The finger work is literally breath-taking with Barere displaying feats of awesome rapidity, astonishing clarity and filigree delicacy. But it is invidious to select just one of Barere’s HMV Liszt recordings; they form one of the greatest achievements in the composer’s representation on record due to Barere’s unique fusion of aristocratic lyricism and scintillating, effortless bravura. Lack of space precludes detailed mention of other items though the Chopin Third Scherzo (masculine, noble and powerfully probing) must be listed as well as the fearless, heaven-storming per­for­mance of Balakirev’s Islamey (the two ‘ver­sions’ contain subtle differences and indicate Barere’s second thoughts to be as equally con­cerned for musical matters as missed notes) and, of course, the premiere recordings of the Blumenfeld and Glazunov Etudes.

Bryan Crimp © 2004

   English   Français   Deutsch