|Raie Da Costa|
Danza de la seducción (No 2 of Danses gitanes, Op 55) [2'35] Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) recorded 16 July 1945
Harriet Cohen (piano)
Praeambulum (Movement 1 of Partita No 5 in G major, BWV829) [2'10] Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) recorded circa August 1923
Egerton Tidmarsh (piano)
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.
This final volume of 'The Matthay Pupils' presents most of his remaining students who left recordings, as well as the few discs Matthay himself made. Of particular interest is a selection from the almost unknown AFMC label which was affiliated to Matthay's school and featured many of its staff. Also included are recently discovered unpublished Irene Scharrer recordings which add considerably to her discography.
In January of 1925, critic Herbert Biss wondered why the tone quality of so many pianists on recordings seemed unpleasantly harsh. Writing in The Gramophone, he asked whether the performers themselves were to blame, or whether factors such as the choice of instrument, studio, or equipment were more influential (See Herbert F Biss, ‘Another Review of Piano Records’, The Gramophone, (January 1925): 278–81). Suspecting the fault rested primarily with the pianists, he put the question to the eminent teacher Tobias Matthay (1858–1945), and received an unqualified response: ‘When I suggested to him that the pianists were largely to blame, he was in entire agreement’ (Biss, 278). To anyone who knew Matthay’s teaching, his reaction was scarcely surprising, for he had spent his entire career (by then in its sixth decade) cultivating gradations in tonal quality, so much so that his pupils—as historian Jacques Barzun once wrote—could be spotted ‘even in a dark room by the sound they make’ (Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America (Boston: 1945), 21).
Born in Clapham to German immigrants, Matthay entered the Royal Academy of Music at thirteen, though his piano studies with William Dorrell, and later Walter Macfarren did little to inspire him. However, the two years he spent studying composition with William Sterndale Bennett, followed by another three with Arthur Sullivan, played a decisive role in shaping his aspirations. Thus he was actually disappointed in the spring of 1880 when the RAM offered him only a piano professorship, for he longed to teach composition (Matthay’s RAM student days are discussed in detail in my England’s Piano Sage: The Life and Teachings of Tobias Matthay (Lanham, MD: 2012), 32–56). For the first decade of his career his students were often unimpressive, for most were studying piano purely as a secondary instrument to support broader musical goals, but in April of 1886, he heard the century’s greatest composer/pianist, Franz Liszt—then in the last four months of his life—and he experienced a pianistic epiphany. And about six weeks later, when he heard Anton Rubinstein give a series of recitals, his view of the piano was permanently transformed, for he now saw the instrument as a fountain of inexhaustible colour—in fact, in the hands of Liszt or Rubinstein it became a veritable orchestra. Two years later, when Hans von Bülow performed a Beethoven cycle in London, Matthay was so overwhelmed that, in essence, he redefined his life’s purpose, vowing to discover the underlying scientific causes that enabled these artists to transcend the piano’s supposed limitations.
In 1903, after over a decade of observation, analysis and experimentation, he published The Act of Touch, an encyclopaedic volume that influenced piano pedagogy throughout the English-speaking world. So many students were soon in quest of his insights that two years later he opened the Tobias Matthay Pianoforte School, first on Oxford Street, then in 1909 relocating to Wimpole Street, where it remained for the next thirty years (though he also continued to teach at the RAM until 1925). When the TMPS first appeared, Matthay’s pupils were already receiving acclaim throughout Britain, and the achievements of York Bowen, Irene Scharrer, Myra Hess, Harriet Cohen and many others were soon to be heralded throughout the world. Matthay lived in an era when piano theoreticians wrote copiously, and although his commitment to scientific validation was not unique, he stood alone in advocating the principle that technique and interpretation were inseparable. How ever dense some may have found his explanations concerning the often controversial subjects of ‘weight’ and ‘relaxation’, they were never meant as ends in themselves, but always linked to the achievement of musical effects, and he analyzed a musical score as diligently as he studied the physiological details which made its realization possible. By the end of the decade, many spoke of a Matthay ‘insignia’, for his students were known by their ease of execution, an extraordinary musical imagination and sensitivity, and—of course—beauty of sound. Some, like Bowen and Scharrer, were noted for their effortless virtuosity, while others, like Cohen, made their reputations interpreting Bach and the moderns, but nearly all were acclaimed for their musicality as much as for their technical mastery.
The AFMC series of recordings
Though at least seventy-nine different titles were sold between 1923 and around 1926, few commercial releases are as difficult to locate today as AFMC recordings. Most were ten-inched size, but a few were twelve-inch, including Matthay’s recording of some of his own pieces, released in July of 1923. By then, the company’s corporate offices had been moved to the ground floor of the TMPS annexe at 95 Wimpole Street. McEwen and several others associated with the firm also had financial ties to the Aeolian Corporation, and for the first two years the discs were recorded at Aeolian Hall on New Bond Street and pressed by its subsidiary, the Universal Music Company at Hayes, Middlesex (Matthay and McEwen had a serious rift in 1925, which led to the dissolution of the AFMC and Matthay’s resignation from the Royal Academy that July. See England’s Piano Sage, 257–73. The music catalogue of the company was absorbed by Oxford University Press, while Parlophone oversaw the production of the remaining discs. The last known were recorded, probably in 1926, by composer and pianist Alec Rowley). By the standards of the day, the technology employed was state-of-the-art, and The Gramophone’s Herbert Biss was elated, insisting: ‘All of the records in their list are as perfect as I ever heard records’ (Biss, 281). Sold through record shops, they were priced at three shillings and six pence for 10" discs and five shillings for the 12" size, but scholar and researcher Nicholas Morgan speculates that their limited pressings may indicate that the overall sales were unimpressive (See Nicholas Travers Morgan, ‘The National Gramophonic Society’ (Ph. D. diss. University of Sheffield, 2013), 255).
All but one of the pianists who recorded for AFMC were Matthay pupils (the exception being Alec Rowley), and most were teaching at the TMPS by the early 1920s. The first twenty-one discs to be issued were recorded by Desirée MacEwan (1902–1990), including the two selections heard here which were released as the A and B sides of a 10" recording in March of 1923. Like Matthay, MacEwan was born in Clapham, and she entered the RAM at the age of fourteen. Matthay always thought highly of her and appointed her to the staff of the TMPS before she had even graduated from the Academy. He was particularly impressed with her ideas concerning children’s pedagogy, and it may be no coincidence that he engaged her for so many AFMC recordings. Although the surviving disc from which these tracks were taken did not preserve all the resonance that might be desired, her reading of the familiar Brahms A flat major Waltz shows a sensitivity to melodic inflection, and her Gigue from the third English Suite demonstrates extreme clarity and individualization of voices—traits on which Matthay insisted.
Frank Egerton ‘Bob’ Tidmarsh (1898–1979) was another native Londoner, and he began studying as a child at the TMPS, where his first teacher was Matthay’s sister, Dora. He entered the RAM at fourteen and, due to a three-year hiatus while on active duty, he graduated in 1921 at the age of twenty-three. A formidable pianist, Tidmarsh later joined the RAM faculty, serving for many years alongside Matthay’s pupil Vivian Langrish, with whom he often performed two-piano programmes. The selections heard here, which were released in October 1923, show him off to fine advantage in two Advanced Grade works from the ABRSM syllabus. Demonstrating a remarkable clarity and vivacity in the opening of Bach’s fifth Partita, his arpeggios in the Moscheles Etude are also rendered precisely as the composer instructed, ‘avec délicatesse et élégance’.
Margaret Portch (1894–1974) was born in Hampstead, and after studies in Nuremburg entered the RAM when she was seventeen. Her first teacher at the TMPS had been pianist and composer Cuthbert Whitemore, and she quickly rose to prominence by effortlessly dispatching such demanding works as Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. She travelled to the USA in the 1920s and spent much of the 1930s in South America, but relocated to Edinburgh during the War, where for thirty years she gave the occasional recital and remained a well-known piano teacher under her married name Margaret Vanderhorst. She could no doubt have achieved greater fame, but the two miniatures included here, recorded in 1923, give at least a sense of her mastery. Her abridged Heller Study is a miracle of control and melodic direction, and she rescues Herbert Brewer’s brief Sketch from excessive sentimentality by transforming it into a mosaic of sensual colour.
Born in Birmingham, Dorothy Howell (1898–1982) entered the RAM at fifteen, where she studied piano with Matthay and composition with McEwen. Though remembered today primarily as a composer, she was a superb pianist, as the three selections included here amply demonstrate. Though one might wish she had added some ornamentation to her Handel Courante (she may have been cautioned against this so as not to conflict with the ABRSM recommended edition), in her hands Heller’s brief Prelude becomes an elegant fantasy, and Percy Buck’s moving tribute to his daughter-in-law, Mary Nicols (‘Marnic’ as he called her), is structured with impeccable attention to orchestral-like colour.
Hilda Dederich (1901–1969) also composed, but she achieved far greater fame as a pianist and teacher. As a child, she entered the TMPS as a pupil of McEwen’s wife, Hedwig, and years later she became so close to Matthay’s family that she even lived at his country home during World War II. She taught for years at the TMPS, also serving as one of its Directors, and after the War she became an esteemed professor at the RAM. Her exquisite rendition of Borodin’s Au couvent, almost overpowers through the richness of its lustrous sonorities. Her elegant Mozart Fantasia, while equally impressive, was recorded under entirely different circumstances, since in late 1924 the AFMC recording facilities were moved to the Parlophone studios near the intersection of Carlton Hill and Abbey Road, and Parlophone also assumed responsibilities for the discs’ pressings (See Frank Andrews, ‘We Also Have Our Own Records Part 1’, Hillandale News, No 213, December 1996, 169). Her Mozart was released on a 12" disc joined by three other selections, two of which are included here. Her rendering of a waltz by Felix Swinstead (1880–1959), another well-known Matthay pupil, sparkles with charm, while her Kinderszenen selection is graced by a wondrous cantabile.
The AFMC roster also included Matthay artists who recorded prolifically, such as York Bowen () and the Scottish-born Rae Robertson (1893–1956). Though clearly an accomplished virtuoso, Robertson is remembered today almost exclusively for his two-piano work with his wife, Ethel Bartlett, and he left scarcely any solo recordings. Thus the selections included here, set down at the Parlophone studios, most likely sometime in 1925, offer special interest. His Purcell Prelude shows a marvellous grace and clarity, and his Haydn movement reveals a finesse that approaches wizardry, though arguably the tempo is too brisk, perhaps because both of these pieces had to be accommodated on the A side of a 12" disc. The B side also contained two works, only one of which is presented here: Adolf Jensen’s Sehnsucht, his loving tribute to his wife (which is rendered here in slightly abridged form), displays moments of exquisite sensitivity.
The Robertsons’ earliest two-piano recordings were released by the National Gramophonic Society (see), but Ethel Bartlett (1896–1978) also recorded some solo works for the NGS, including Walter Rummel’s transcription (or to use his term, ‘adaptation’) of the Bach organ Prelude BWV731, Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, which was published in London by J & W Chester in 1927. Rummel, a highly skilled pianist, was a close friend of many in the Matthay circle, including Harriet Cohen, who often included his works in her own recitals. By December of 1929, Columbia was producing all NGS discs, and Ethel’s recording was made at their spacious Petty France studios in London. Her rendering is wrought with delicacy in every voice, and in her hands Rummel’s adaptation becomes so deeply moving that perennial questions concerning stylistic authenticity seem to lose all importance. Ernest Lush (1908–1988) also left few solo recordings, though his decades of service at the BBC gained him recognition as one of Britain’s finest collaborative pianists. He gave his first broadcast at the age of fifteen, but continued to study at the TMPS for many years thereafter, even winning the School’s Bronze Medal in 1932. His little-known rendition of a Grieg folk dance, recorded in October 1955, abounds with passion and subtlety. It was recorded for inclusion in HMV’s popular series, The History of Music in Sound—released on the RCA label in America—which once supported the curricula of music schools throughout the world.
A possible explanation for HMV’s decision to withhold the Schumann may relate to their concern that the up-and-coming microphone technology, imminent by 1924, might have invoked unfavourable comparisons with the acoustic system then in use. Scharrer’s first known ‘electric’ session for HMV was on 28 October 1925, when she recorded two Chopin Preludes, the F sharp minor and the F major; these were never released and they survive today only as a single 12" pressing in the possession of her family. The F sharp minor had previously been recorded in an acoustic version in 1921 (included on) and perhaps the later recording remained unreleased because the company felt it did not represent a significant improvement over this, but the F major, which had not been previously recorded, is a breathtaking gem, so it seems more likely that technical or commercial considerations determined its fate (At the same session on 28 October 1925, Scharrer also re-recorded Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau, which probably remained unreleased for the same reason as the Chopin F sharp minor Prelude. In other words, the company saw little point in issuing an electrical version merely to compete with a satisfactory acoustical version of the same repertoire). Columbia’s reasons for withholding her incomparable 1930 electrical recording of Schubert’s A flat major Impromptu, D899 No 4, are also unknown, but today’s listeners may be especially grateful that her family has retained possession of two complete takes of this work.
But of all Matthay-related ‘buried treasures’, perhaps the most fascinating is Decca’s set of the complete Bach Two-Part Inventions, recorded by his ward, Denise Lassimonne (1903–1994), at the company’s West Hampstead studios on 23 September 1941. Even if Decca felt the recordings somewhat deficient in technical quality, it seems improbable they were rejected on aesthetic grounds, for her playing is so polished and refined that they arguably stand comparison with the finest Bach interpretations on disc—even today. The exact circumstances may never be known, but wartime exigencies may have played a role, since shellac was soon in short supply, and the company had begun to authorize releases requiring two or more 12" discs with greater discretion (Philip Stuart’s comprehensive catalogue of Decca classical recordings notes that Clifford Curzon recorded the first movement of Schumann’s G minor Sonata in West Hampstead on 11 November 1941, about six weeks after Denise recorded the Bach, but the work was neither completed nor released, As Stuart notes: ‘Three more sides would probably have been required to complete the work’). Fortunately in the summer of 1984, three of her American students carefully carried the fragile test records in her possession back to the States where a high-quality tape was made. This is now housed at the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland, which made it available for these transfers. Because the playing is so uniformly masterful, it would serve little purpose to cite specific passages in any of the fifteen Inventions, but connoisseurs may be especially fascinated by the revelations she brings forth in the oft-hackneyed F major (No 8), the A major (No 12), and the B flat major (No 14). As Matthay insisted, her passage work is always melodic and inflected, her colour palette is rich (and fortunately well captured), and her dynamic control is often breathtaking. The daughter of the French tutor to the Royal Family, Denise was born in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and she began studying with Matthay as a child, entering the RAM at the age of thirteen and joining the TMPS staff while still a teenager. When her father died a few weeks short of her eighteenth birthday, her mother and her elder sister returned to France, allowing Matthay and his wife, who had no children of their own, to take her in. To them she became, in effect, an adopted daughter, and she remained in Matthay’s household until his death in December 1945. Some years earlier the Matthays had shown a similar generosity to Myra Hess, and though Myra was thirteen years older than Denise the two women enjoyed a sister-like camaraderie for most of their lives (Denise’s relationship to the Matthays is discussed in great detail throughout England’s Piano Sage, beginning at page 240).
Fortunately, the War did not impede Decca’s release of Mozart’s Prelude (Matthay always termed it a ‘Fantasia’) and Fugue, which Denise recorded about three months earlier than the Inventions, and which also deserves inclusion here. If the Prelude is, by modern interpretive standards, somewhat overly Romantic in scale, the Fugue is a marvel. Her playing exudes a joyous vivacity, filled with fluid, liquid legatos, all of which are achieved without benefit of pedal. The Mozart was released several months after she had recorded the Bach, and The Musical Times was highly complimentary, praising her performance as ‘skilful and intelligent’ (See William McNaught, The Musical Times, January 1942, 17. Stuart’s Decca catalogue also notes that at the same June 1941 session when the Mozart was recorded, Denise accompanied violist Watson Forbes in Handel’s Sonata in A, HWV 373, but the Handel was never released. Undoubtedly, the company would have needed to commit another 12" disc to make it available commercially. See item 0215). Obviously, the War brought untold hardships, but it also occasionally created unexpected opportunities. Not surprisingly, Denise frequently performed in the National Gallery concerts organized by Dame Myra Hess, who often engaged many Matthay students—including Harriet Cohen (1895–1967). Though Cohen’s solo releases were commemorated in a previous instalment in this series (), she never recorded Turina’s Danza de la seducción, so her broadcast for the British Forces Broadcasting Service—heard shortly after VE Day—holds special interest. Aside from some routine tempo markings, there is nothing in Turina’s score, cast in 3/4 time, to suggest the rhythmic freedom that Cohen imparts. But consonant with Matthay’s teachings, she moulds and shapes her passages across the bar lines, simulating enticing flamenco effects that alternate with an unrestrained lyricism.
Beyond Britain: Matthay’s expanding influence
Another ‘modern’ artist who chose an unconventional path was Raie Da Costa (1905–1934), who left Cape Town at the age of nineteen for study at the TMPS. Matthay soon recognized her as a major talent, and for several years she excelled as an interpreter of Chopin and Liszt. However, by 1927 she was appearing regularly on the BBC as a ‘syncopated pianist’, a term more meaningful to British than American audiences and which covered a wide berth of pop styles. Within three years, Da Costa was internationally famous for her improvised stylizations of songs by Gershwin, Porter, Kern and others, eventually recording over 100 sides for Parlophone and HMV, whose ranks she joined in 1930. For sheer technical finesse, she had few peers among pop performers, and some of her recordings even offer flourishes rivalling the young Art Tatum. She was soon in constant demand but she never forgot her roots: even though her schedule was packed she occasionally found time to revisit the concert repertoire she most loved. Among her recorded output, the two HMV selections included here are exceptional rarities. Ironically, HMV signed Da Costa soon after Irene Scharrer had left that label late in 1929 for Columbia, for whom she recorded the Liszt Rigoletto paraphrase that November. About seven months later, Da Costa entered the HMV studios to record the same work and no doubt HMV envisioned a competitor for Scharrer’s Columbia offering. Although in the many elaborate stage shows where she appeared, Da Costa only occasionally played a classical selection, her Liszt offering leaves no doubt that her pianism stood comparison with virtually any artist of her day. And if her rendition of Alfred Grünfeld’s difficult Strauss paraphrase could have benefited from a bit more subtlety, her execution is so effortless that the effect is overwhelming. Arguably, Da Costa was a unique presence in twentieth-century pianism, and no doubt she would be far better remembered today had she not died tragically—at the age of twenty-nine—as the result of complications following a routine appendectomy.
On 26 March 1927, just as Hallis and Da Costa were forging a presence on the London concert scene, an eight-year-old child named Nina Milkin (1919–2006) made her first appearance at a TMPS recital as a student of Denise Lassimonne. Born in Moscow, her family had fled the Revolution, and she arrived in London a year earlier by way of Paris. In subsequent years she worked with Matthay and his student Harold Craxton and by 1937, now performing as Nina Milkina, she had caught the attention of Thomas Beecham, going on to perform in a concert series he sponsored devoted to Mozart. She soon achieved a reputation as one of the finest miniaturists Matthay produced, specializing in Scarlatti, Haydn, Mozart and Chopin, but she made no recordings until she was nearly forty. The Scarlatti Sonatas included here, issued in 1958, have been taken from one of her first LPs. Although Westminster’s engineering may not always do justice to the colours and resonance of her sound, the extraordinary clarity and musicality she imparts to these works shines through. The quicksilver changes required in the D minor, Kk396, are executed with effortless dispatch, and her D major, Kk29, captivates through its warmth and imagination as much as by its dazzling wizardry.
Outside of Britain, no nation was more eager to absorb Matthay’s message than America. After The Act of Touch was published in 1903, only a handful of Americans journeyed to Wimpole Street, but after the War, this number swelled to a torrent, including the twenty-five-year-old Bruce Simonds (1895–1989). Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Simonds had earned two degrees from Yale before arriving in Paris in 1919 to study composition with d’Indy, but he was so upset with the piano instruction he received there that he considered refocusing his efforts toward music history. When he met an Englishwoman who advised him that Matthay had some ‘new ideas’, he eagerly went to London in August of 1920 and soon abandoned all thought of continuing his studies in Paris. A stunning intellect and an extraordinary pianist, Simonds was offered a professorship at Yale in 1921, but he returned to London frequently through the 1920s, even teaching at the TMPS in the summer of 1925. On 4 July 1928, he gave a recital at Wigmore Hall, and critics were so overwhelmed that one even cautioned aspiring Americans about ‘the obvious dangers attending the prodigiously high standard they have set in the person of Bruce Simonds’ (See ‘Bruce Simonds’, The Musical Times, 1 August 1928, 747). In 1925 Simonds became the first president of the American Matthay Association, an organization that still exists to promote Matthay’s teachings, and in 1941 he became Dean of the Yale School of Music. By the mid-1950s, his reputation had become so pronounced that ten separate LPs were financed through private means to promote his artistry, followed by an eleventh containing two-piano works performed by Simonds and his wife, Rosalind—also a Matthay student. All bore the Carillon label, and the Schubert Impromptu featured here was taken from the fifth volume of the series. Although the microphones have not always captured the full beauty and resonance of his sound—and at times they pick up unwanted damper noise—this recording conveys a sense of Simonds’s superb artistry, especially in the final variation.
Three years after Simonds first played for Matthay, a fifteen-year-old Eunice Norton (1908–2005) arrived at Wimpole Street with her mother, and she remained with Matthay for eight years. Perceived as a prodigy by most in her native Minneapolis, her parents spared no expense to nurture her talent, and at sixteen she played in Queen’s Hall under Henry Wood. She was joined by three of Matthay’s teenaged students performing Bach’s rarely heard four-keyboard transcription of Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins, and the performance was well received by the press. She soon became passionate about Bach, but she also excelled in the music of Beethoven, which stood her in good stead when she went to Berlin to work with Schnabel in 1932. While there, she was exposed to newer music and even studied some of Hindemith’s works with the composer. After she returned home, her life was centred in Pittsburgh, but she frequently returned to Minneapolis where she often performed with the orchestra. In the 1930s, the recording industry was severely depressed, and Victor took advantage of a curious clause in the contracts of the Minneapolis Orchestra musicians—and their conductor, a young Eugene Ormandy—that required them to work a specified number of hours each week, irrespective of how their time was spent. Thus, the Orchestra’s board directed the musicians to devote eleven days in January of 1934, and twelve days the following January to record fifty-six separate works spanning over eighty discs. Since they were not required to pay the musicians—who worked six hours per day, seven days a week—Victor was only too happy to send their finest engineers and equipment, and the Orchestra’s board was elated when, after three years, it had amassed over a million dollars in royalties. All the recordings were made in the acoustically unsympathetic Northrup Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, and the repertoire was vast, ranging from little-known contemporary works to massive undertakings such as Mahler’s Symphony No 2—a resounding critical success that catapulted Ormandy to international fame. Honegger’s often charming Concertino for piano and orchestra (1924) was recorded on 15 January 1935, the penultimate work in a series that concluded with the Sibelius Symphony No 1 the following day. Honegger’s idiom, which often deliberately avoids lyricism, is greatly enhanced by Norton’s precision and sparkling, refined pianism.
The daughter of a Jewish cantor, Ray (Rachiel) Lev (1912–1968) was born in Rostov-on-Don in southwest Russia and brought to the United States by her parents when she was only a year old. Reared partially in Connecticut, by her late teens she was living in Brooklyn and studying with Matthay’s pupil Helene Diedrichs. Diedrichs, then living in Boston, maintained a studio in New York, and on 7 June 1930, she entered her eighteen-year-old student in the fourth annual Scholarship Auditions sponsored by the American Matthay Association. The AMA prize of $1,000 was sufficient to guarantee Lev a year’s study at the TMPS and she was able to extend her stay for another two years by winning a scholarship offered by the New York Philharmonic. By the late 1930s she had developed a substantial following on both sides of the Atlantic, and during World War II she was honoured by President Roosevelt for her frequent performances for American and Allied forces. Unfortunately, after the War her career was seriously derailed when her unrestrained support for the Communist Party made her the only concert pianist to fall under governmental investigation, and her subsequent persona non grata status prevented her from regaining the stature she had once enjoyed. But she did make a number of recordings for the Concert Hall Society, a smaller New York label founded by two brothers after the War, and the grandest of Schumann’s eight Noveletten is taken from one of her LPs released in 1952. Schumann’s episodic, often enigmatic work extends to nearly ten minutes and is well served by Lev’s highly spirited performance. Although the CHS engineers may have caught an over-abundance of upper partials, suggesting an exaggerated roughness of sound, her finely spun dynamic gradations shine through. As Matthay insisted, every note is rendered with musical intention, and her finesse and virtuosity are often electrifying.
Tobias Matthay’s own playing
Despite an occasional missed note, Matthay’s Prelude, which serves as a bridge between the two recording sessions represented here, is arguably given a slightly better realization on the Columbia disc, which was recorded in November of 1932, about three weeks after he had performed it on the BBC National Service. Airing on the evening of 25 October, the broadcast featured eight selections in all and it was so well received that Columbia asked him to commit a few of the pieces to disc about three weeks later. The Prelude was followed by his sparkling Bravura on the A side, and the B side contained two selections from On Surrey Hills, a suite of four programmatic miniatures he dedicated to Desirée MacEwan, intended specifically for the AFMC catalogue. Composed in April of 1919 at High Marley, his country home on the Surrey/Sussex border, these masterful character pieces are meant to suggest springtime in the English countryside. The record’s release was timed to commemorate Matthay’s seventy-fifth birthday—19 February 1933—and it was highly praised. The Gramophone dubbed him the ‘G.O.M. [Grand Old Man] of the piano world’ (The Gramophone, March 1933. The magazine’s critic noted that his review was written on 19 February), and the British Musician observed that ‘in every respect of flexibility, ease, speed and strength, one would fancy that some youthful prodigy of the piano were the performer’ (taken from Columbia’s promotional brochure for Matthay’s disc).
At this stage in his life, Matthay was no doubt pleased to receive recognition for his playing as much as for his teaching, but although he loved speed and brilliance, he never believed that technical facility was an end in itself—merely a means to serve musical values. Perhaps the tribute he might have cherished most is one that he never heard, for it was given by one of his former students at his memorial service on 19 December 1945—five days after his death:
Beauty was his lodestar in life; he was her servant, her interpreter, and her instrument in creation.
Stephen Siek © 2014
Other albums in this series
Irene Scharrer – The complete electric and selected acoustic recordings
APR6010 for the price of 1 — Download only
Bartlett & Robertson – Selected recordings, 1927-1947
APR6012 for the price of 1 — Download only
Harriet Cohen – The complete solo studio recordings
APR7304 Download only
Eileen Joyce – The complete Parlophone & Columbia solo recordings
APR7502 Download only
Myra Hess – The complete solo and concerto studio recordings
APR7504 Download only