Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, USA

Under the aegis of the APR 'Signature Series,' we have Benno Moiseiwitsch: The Complete Rachmaninov Recordings: 1937-1943, a sweet compilation by Bryan Crimp that pays tribute to Rachmaninov’s favorite interpreter of his works. Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) represented the Romantic tradition, bearing the mantle of Theodore Leschetitzky and the imprimatur of his older colleague Josef Hoffmann. Clarity of execution and a supple, flexible approach to rhythm characterize the Moiseiwitsch aesthetic, a synthesis of erotic polish and natural bravura.

A sense of electric tension pervades the C Minor Concerto (13 December 1937) as Moiseiwitsch and Walter Goehr (1903-1960) invest a fluent rubato and stirring intimacy into the score, the more taxing demands of stretch and digital articulation having been thoroughly devoured by the pianist’s deft, poetic hands. The momentum of the first movement Moderato proceeds with an almost glib efficiency, were not the individual phrases and rendered so rhapsodically. That the second movement Adagio sostenuto owes debts to both Beethoven and Chopin becomes fairly obvious, and Moiseiwitsch can apply the velvet brush or the tiger’s claw as required. Engineer Crimp has resuscitated some endearing warbles from the LPO’s woodwinds and strings as Moiseiwitsch pours out arpegggiated wine from his keyboard.

Breathtaking fleetness of execution marks the last movement, a sturdy balance of lithe bravura and canny arioso. The melodic contour consistently seeks what composer dubbed 'the point' of fluent arch. The scherzando pace receives a crisp communion between pianist and often contrapuntal orchestral tissue, a veritable swirl of enchanted colors. The softness of Moiseiwitsch’s boldest or detached chords testify to his thorough absorption of the Leschetitzky aesthetic, that the piano should remain a vocal instrument.

The Moiseiwitsch inscription (17 March 1939) of the Rachmaninov piano transcription of Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream basks in its illumined reputation, a marvel of digital legerdemain and focused cantabile. The ringing chords of the upper register shine in scintillated harmony. Rarely has the ubiquitous C-sharp Minor Prelude (2 August 1940) tolled its fateful bells with such a sense of mystery, as though the piece were a cousin to Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral. The middle section Moisewitsch delivers at a blistering, demonic pace, thundering to the extended coda, which fades into a realm where Poe resides. The G Minor Prelude from the same session gallops on light feet, the concept bravura in the manner of Josef Hofmann. The erotic wash of the central section is pure Moiseiwitsch.

With the Prelude in G Major (19 October 1943) we savor the ultimate in distilled pianissimo from Moiseiwtisch, complemented by luxurious pedaling to achieve poetic refinement. The colossal B Minor Prelude (3 October 1940) both the composer and Moiseiwitsch conceived as a musical response to Arnold Boecklin’s The Return. Aspects of both Liszt and Ravel permeate this epic rendition, the prelude the composer’s confessed favorite of his twenty-four. The G-sharp Minor (19 October 1943) literally shimmer with exalted nervous energy, still poetic at every cantering turn. The E Minor Moment musical (20 October 1943) plays like a Liszt etude, rife with with whirling ostinati and a syncopated melody based on a simple scale in the manner of Tchaikovsky.

The collaboration on the popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (5 December 1938) with Basil Cameron (1884-1975) rewards us with its bright colors, including mischievous inklings from the LPO woodwinds in the course of the “violin’s” manic bariolage. Moisiewitsch does not linger on the sequence of variations, but neither does he consign any of the characters to mere academics. He introduces the Dies Irae motive with solemn, ringing tones, then accelerates with equally manic commitment to scoff in Death’s face. Besides the grand sensuality of the design, we miss having a Moiseiwitsch recorded document in the archetype for this work, Liszt’s Totentanz. Come to your own judgments, aesthetic and erotic, for the rendering of Variation 18. Rarely have brilliant virtuosity and unbridled affection merged so vividly in the music of Rachmaninov.