Brailowsky Rarities on CD: NYC, 1940-1955 = CHOPIN, MUSSORGSKY, SCHUMANN, WEBER, LISZT, BACH, LIADOV, SCRIABIN & FRANCK – Fondazione Stauffer (2 CDs)

Brailowsky Rarities on CD: NYC, 1940-1955 = CHOPIN: 14 Waltzes; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition; SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11; WEBER: Invitation to the Dance. Op 65;  LISZT: Etude in G-sharp Minor, “La Campanella”; BACH: Concerto in D Minor after Vivaldi, BWV 596; LIADOV: A Musical Snuff-Box, Op. 32; SCRIABIN: Etude in D-sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12; FRANCK: Symphonic Variations – Alexander Brailowsky, piano/ RCA Victor Sym./ Jean-Paul Morel – Fondazione Stauffer Stauffer007 (2 CDs), 77:36, 78:47 [fondazionestauffer@libero.it] ****:

A major effort continues through an enterprising Italian foundation to resurrect the recorded legacy of Ukrainian-French piano virtuoso Alexander Brailowsky (1896-1976), who “specialized” in Chopin but whose range embraced Russian, French, Hungarian, Spanish, and German repertory with equal flavor and digital panache. My attention came to this set – the first installment of a projected series – through Mark Obert-Thorn, the indefatigable recording engineer who contributes one selection, the Scriabin Etude (20 December 1940) to the collection. The major sound restoration belongs to Pietro Zappala. While the Chopin does repeat the RCA “Brailowsky Plays Chopin” (09026-68164-2) from 1996, it complements such issues as the Pristine PASC 235 restoration of the Liszt Totentanz with Reiner, which shared the LP (LM 1195) incarnation with the present Symphonic Variations of Cesar Franck (20 February 1951).  The Liszt and Scriabin etudes did see revival through RCA’s “Brailowsky plays Virtuoso Showpieces” (09026-68165-2), also from 1996.

The May 1941 set (rife with the swish of shellacs) of Chopin 14 Waltzes proves energetic, fleetly optimistic, and casually satisfying, in the manner of fine salon musicianship. Frank Glazer, who studied in Berlin prior to the outbreak of WW II, heard Brailowsky in concert.  A woman seated nearby seemed restive and annoyed.  “You don’t like him?” queried Glazer. “He plays for the ladies,” she replied.  The Weber Invitation to the Dance (5 April 1949) suffers distinctly less sonic intrusion, and the sense of dramatic urgency involves us immediately. A Leschetizky pupil, Brailowsky well imbibed the master’s capacity for degrees of nuanced colors. The Liszt (16 May 1941) remains, on its own terms, quite spectacular, especially in the Alpine runs and trills, and we do recall that Brailowsky inscribed the entire set of Hungarian Rhapsodies for posterity.   The most original moment of programming comes in the form of the 2 April 1953 Bach transcription (in the William Murdoch edition) of Vivaldi’s D Minor Concerto from L’Estro armonico. Brailowsky’s bass tones alone warrant the price of admission; later, his rarified stretti win my vote. The magical gem by Liadov (5 April 1949) represents the perfect encore, alla musette as it should be.

Disc 2 opens with the 20 May 1940 78 rpm set of the Mussorgsky Pictures (from M 861), whose early Gnomus delivers bold testimony to Brailowsky’s uncommon powers of persuasion and point to what might have potentially represented a real force in contemporary music. The Tuileries likewise offer facile evidence of an extraordinary gift for bravura, toccata textures. Like Gnomus, the Catacombe explore dissonant chords and Lisztian ecstasies in stark juxtaposition, and Braikowsky bears an inflamed torch amidst the momentos of the dead.  We enter the folklore savagery of Baba Yaga with a bold attack and resonant progressions on fowls’ legs.  A nobly arched Great Gate of Kiev resounds with Russian bells and plaints of thanksgiving, a suave compelling performance that might have been revived long before this incarnation.

On the heels of the impassioned Scriabin Etude, the eccentrically bold Schumann First Sonata – from LM 1918, recorded at Webster Hall 14 February 1955 – brings a dimension of introspection to the Brailowsky palette we had not encountered in such immensity.  Surely, Eusebius reigns in this performance, though the assertive “fandango” motive of the opening Allegro vivace packs enough of the Florestan energy to certify Brailowsky an initiate of the Davids-League. The “Aria” sounds as if it were lifted from Schumann’s own Symphonic Etudes, a flowing operatic song. If Paganini had influenced the Liszt aesthetic, so had he impressed Schumann, who dedicated two opera, Nos. 3 and 10, to Paganini studies. The last movement of this grand sonata, too, reverberates with Paganini filigree, demanding a host a keyboard fioritura from Brailowsky, who allows Florestan his brilliant moment in the sun.

At last, from the Manhattan Center, New York, we have the restored 1885 Franck Symphonic Variations from a period that saw the work addressed by the likes of Walter Gieseking, Aldo Ciccolini, and Robert Casadesus.  Assisted by the gifted Jean-Paul Morel (1903-1975), often called “the soul of the Juilliard conducting school,” Brailowsky exchanges complementary ideas with the orchestra, in the manner of the Beethoven G Major Concerto.  The Poco allegro passes through a meditative, central Allegretto to a plastic, even jazzy, third section that rounds off the six variants with a splendid peroration.

—Gary Lemco

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