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Hyperion Records

APR6006 - Paderewski – His earliest recordings
Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Release date: March 2008
Total duration: 144 minutes 20 seconds

Paderewski – His earliest recordings
No 3 in F major: Allegro  [1'44]  recorded July 1911
No 4 in F major: Adagio  [2'48]  recorded July 1911
No 3 in A major: Molto allegro e vivace  [2'27]  recorded February 1912
No 12 in C minor, 'Revolutionary': Allegro con fuoco  [2'24]  recorded February 1912
No 7 in C major: Vivace  [1'31]  recorded February 1912
No 2 in F minor: Presto  [1'35]  recorded February 1912
No 3 in E major, 'Tristesse': Lento ma non troppo  [4'17]  recorded February 1912
No 7 in C sharp minor: Lento  [5'19]  recorded July 1912
No 3 in A major: Molto allegro e vivace  [2'27]  recorded July 1912
Valse-caprice in E flat  [5'17]  Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)  recorded July 1912

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.

It is hardly possible that the first recordings of any pianist will arouse the same excitement that many people felt when it was announced that Ignace Jan Paderewski had finally consented to entrust his playing to the gramophone. He was fifty years old when, in July 1911, technicians from The Gramophone Company transported unwieldy recording equipment to Paderewski’s villa at Morges, Switzerland. There it was set up near the favoured Erard instrument in the Polish master’s music room to capture fourteen sides of short solo works that were mainstays of his repertoire.

During the previous twenty years Paderewski had become a household name and his fame had spread to nearly every major musical centre. His debut performances in Paris (1888), London (1890) and New York (1891) generated unprecedented enthusiasm. Among pianists, only Liszt and Anton Rubin­stein had reaped a similar degree of acclaim from both audiences and critics. In theory, Paderewski could have begun recording several years before he actually did, joining the pioneering discs (1899–1908) of such notable players as Grünfeld, Hofmann, Pugno, Diémer, Pachmann and Backhaus (to be sure, he did make some reproducing piano rolls for Welte around 1906, and later for the Aeolian Company), but it took the persuasive powers of HMV’s roving impresario Fred Gaisberg to bring to fruition the first in what would become an extensive – but by no means fully represen­tative – series of recordings. These continued off and on until his final sessions in November 1938, less than three years before Paderewski’s death at the age of 80.

In his 1942 memoir, The Music Goes Round, Gaisberg states: ‘Paderewski, from the first, diffidently consented to record and never completely reconciled himself to the ordeal. He always doubted whether a machine could capture his art.’ On another occasion, Paderew­ski confessed to an interviewer that the making of one gramophone record was more of a trial than playing an entire recital. (Paderewski makes no mention whatsoever of his recordings in his own memoirs.) His reluctance, however, had even deeper roots. In the years immediately preceding the 1911 sessions, the trajectory of Paderewski’s career was stalled by several personal crises. After a railway accident in 1905 he developed a strong aversion to piano playing, aggravated by severe neuritis affecting his arms to the point that he did not play in public at all for about two seasons. In addition, Paderewski’s highly strung temperament produced nearly constant stage fright and he was advised to temporarily divert his attention toward other pursuits. This he did, completing his Polonia Symphony (Op 24) and turning to gardening, farming, and reading in several languages. A return to the platform during the 1908/9 season only created further anxiety.

But in 1910 Paderewski gave a much-heralded speech in Krakow at the unveiling of a monument commemorating a 15th-century Polish military victory. This was followed by his equally impressive address in Lvov honoring the centenary of Chopin’s birth. These events heightened Paderewski’s inherent nationalistic fervour and also seemed to mark the start of a liberation from his earlier revolt against the piano.

It was against this background that in 1911 Paderewski agreed to make his first discs, but with the stipulation that they be recorded in the familiar atmosphere of his home. The Chalet Riond-Bosson at Morges, near Lausanne and overlooking Lake Geneva, became Paderewski’s permanent residence in 1897. A sprawling estate of no particular architectural distinction, it served as a haven from his almost incessant touring.

Fourteen sides are known to have been recorded there in 1911. However, only six of these were originally issued, as premium-priced, single-sided 12-inch discs bearing a special pink-coloured label. They enjoyed a brief catalogue life (being replaced by later remakes) and are major rarities today. Fortunately Paderewski’s own test pressings of eight additional sides have survived; these copies served as source material for the present collection. All his existing 1911 recordings are presented together for the first time on CD 1. The reasons for the rejected items are not clear, but in some instances, at least, they involved perceived sonic (rather than pianistic) problems. For instance, the label of the Schumann Nachtstück test pressing bears Paderewski’s pencilled comment ‘too quiet, but fine’. It is likely that the primitive gramophone equipment available to him was not capable of revealing the full depth of sound that was actually captured, something easily possible now with 21st-century audio restoration technology.

Seven months later, Paderewski resumed his recording activity but this time under somewhat more settled conditions in Paris, followed by further sessions in London. In these 1912 records he seems to have gradually acclimatized himself to the process despite a few moments of insecurity, as in the first attempt at his Cracovienne fantastique where he inadvertently repeats one measure. Although Paderewski chose to re-record most of the repertoire selected for his first discs (sometimes more than once), there are several unique items among the 1911/12 material. These include Paderewski’s only recordings of Schumann’s Des Abends and Aufschwung, Chopin’s Nocturne Op 62 No 2, Étude Op 10 No 7 and the first three Études of Op 25 as well as the Mendelssohn Song Without Words Op 53 No 4.

After a two-year hiatus, Paderewski undertook further recordings in 1914, but from then until 1937 all his discs would be made in the studios of HMV’s then-affiliate, the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor) – first in Camden, New Jersey, then in New York. During much of the post-war period, however, Paderewski devoted a great deal of time and energy on behalf of Poland, abandoning the piano for five years from 1917 to 1922 while he assumed roles of statesman and diplomat.

Despite the impressive size of Paderew­ski’s recorded legacy, it contains almost no representation of the larger works in his repertoire. Even in the early electrical period, when many front-rank pianists were recording multi-disc sets of major sonatas and concertos, Paderewski, for whatever reasons, avoided such works. Among the compositions frequent­ly appearing on his programmes that he elected not to record are the Brahms–Handel and Brahms–Paganini Variations; Chopin’s four Ballades, F minor Fantasy and B minor Sonata; Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; the Liszt B minor Sonata; the Schumann Carnaval, Symphonic Études, Fantasy, and Sonata Op 11; and Beethoven’s last three sonatas as well the ‘Tempest’, ‘Waldstein’, and ‘Appassionata’. Although Paderew­ski’s concerto repertoire was relative­ly circum­scribed, it is odd that no effort was made to preserve his interpretations of the Beethoven ‘Emperor’, the Chopin F minor, Schumann A minor, Saint-Saëns Fourth, or Paderewski’s own well-crafted Concerto.

Thus it is clear that, from several perspectives, Paderewski’s discs provide an incomplete picture of his artistry. The records we do have portray him essentially as a poet and miniaturist, rather than the powerful orator and dramatist whose magnetism so often aroused his audiences. Within that limited framework, however, his personality is still strongly felt. Especially notable among the performances offered here is the warmth of tone and haunting introspection he captures in Schumann’s Des Abends and Warum?, and in the nocturnes by Chopin and by Paderewski himself. We also hear his idiomatic command of Polish folk idioms in his own Cracovienne fantastique and Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor. And for those inclined to believe various descriptions of Paderewski’s technical limita­tions, the Liszt Leggierezza and the Chopin–Liszt Maiden’s Wish offer evidence to the contrary. Both rank among his most successful recorded interpretations.

Another frequent criticism of Paderewski’s playing refers to his ‘old-fashioned mannerism’ of often playing the left hand slightly before the right in slower, melodic sections. This was, of course, a widespread practice among pianists born before the end of the 19th century. (In fairness, we also encounter this habit in the mid-to-late 20th century – although not con­sistent­ly – from such pianists as Wilhelm Backhaus, Rudolf Serkin, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Earl Wild.) Obviously, any expressive device can quickly become a mannerism when carried to extremes or applied indiscriminately. In lesser players the asynchronization of the hands could be blamed on a lack of technical discipline or on poor musical judgment. However, it might be prudent to point out that a slight anticipation of right-hand melodic material can serve legitimate musical purposes. For one thing, this practice eschews the more rigid, mechanical sound that results from the constantly precise placement of notes. It also serves to bring the melodic line into higher relief and creates a richer sonority by allowing the instrument’s overtones to resonate more fully. There was little comment about this facet of Paderewski’s style during the earlier phases of his career, but as the practice became less common among pianists, criticism of Paderewski became more frequent.

In approaching a balanced assessment of Paderewski the musician, we offer some observations from the late Harry L Anderson, a lifelong scholar of pianists who heard Paderew­ski on several occasions and exhaustively researched his life, career and recordings. ‘Paderewski belongs to another age,’ Anderson wrote, ‘an age of pianists to whom the piano was a means of highly personal expression. I do not think we shall see a return to the romanticism of Paderewski, but I do think that another generation will feel that the whole of piano playing is not summed up by playing both hands always together, or by stifling one’s own imagination and feeling. Many of these excesses of romanticism are perhaps well gone, but the uniformity I encounter in so many of the younger contemporaries is not a better substitute, and I can overlook much that is arbitrary in a pianist like Paderewski when I remember those occasions when all his powers and magic seemed to combine in perfect performances.’

Donald Manildi © 2008

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