Egon Petri – The Complete Columbia and Electrola Solo and Concerto Recordings, 1929-1951 = Works oF BACH, BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, BUSONI, FRANCK, CHOPIN, LISZT, SCHUBERT, GLUCK, TCHAIKOVSKY – APR (7 CDS)

Egon Petri, piano – The Complete Columbia and Electrola Solo and Concerto Recordings, 1929-1951 = BACH (arr. Busoni): Chaconne; 4 Chorale Preludes; Bach (Arr. Petri): Menuet; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 10, No. 2; Piano Sonata in c-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2; Piano Sonata in F-sharp Major, Op. 78; Piano Sonata in e minor, Op. 90; Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 106; Piano Sonata in c minor, Op. 111; BRAHMS: Handel Variations, Op. 24; Paganini Variations, Op. 35; 4 Ballades, Op. 10; Klavierstuecke, Op. 118; 2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79; Rhapsody in E-flat Major, Op. 119, No. 4; BUSONI: Fantasia after J.S. Bach; Indian Diary; 2 Sonatinas; All’Italia; Albumblatt No. 3; Giga, bolero e variazione; CHOPIN: 24 Preludes, Op. 28; Heroic Polonaise; Waltz, Op. 42; FRANCK: Prelude, Chorale et Fugue; LISZT (ed. Busoni): Rhapsodie Espagnole; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A; Fantasia on Beethoven’s “Ruins of Athens”; 5 Etudes; Faust Waltz; Rigoletto Paraphrase; Adelaide (after Beethoven); Soiree de Vienne No. 6; Spinning Chorus (after Wagner); 6 Schubert Songs; GLUCK (arr. Sgambati): Melodie; SCHUBERT (arr. Tausig): Andantino et variazione; TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Con. No. 1 in b-flat minor, Op. 23 – Egon Petri, p./ London Philharmonic Orch./ Leslie Heward (Liszt)/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Walter Goehr (Tchaikovsky)/ Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/ Dimitri Mitropoulos (Liszt Rhapsodie) – APR 7701 (7 CDs)   TT: 9 hours, 1 minute  (10/30/15) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Dutch piano master Egon Petri (1881-1962) studied with Ferruccio Busoni and was perhaps his greatest disciple, although some might argue this distinction for Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960). In his fusion of intellect with an astonishing virtuoso technique, Petri echoed his master and gives us today the clearest idea of Busoni’s own legendary pianism. Many recall with affection the Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall in honor of Busoni, 28 December 1941, in which Petri, Szigeti, and Mitropoulos paid musical homage to their revered master. The 27 December 1939 Rhapsodie Espagnole of Liszt from Minneapolis, arranged by Busoni for piano and orchestra, certifies the natural collaboration of two electrically charged, kindred spirits, here in Petri’s first American recording.

This set contains everything Petri inscribed (apart from a few chamber works, such as the Brahms Op. 108 Sonata with Joseph Szigeti) until his final recordings for Columbia in 1951. Highlights include perhaps the most spectacular Brahms Paganini Variations ever committed to disc, the uniquely important Busoni recordings and a broad selection of Liszt, including very impressive performances of some of the Schubert song transcriptions. Some of this material was previously available on APR but is now remastered by Mark Obert-Thorn, and in some cases where better source material was obtained (e.g. the Chopin Preludes), it was re-transferred by Obert-Thorn.

A powerful blend of the most formidable technique, coupled with a natural aristocracy of expression, defines something of the Petri experience. Disc ! opens with the Chopin 2/4 Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 42 (17 September 1929), played in as muscular and lithe a manner as anything from Josef Hofmann. Petri’s sheer range of expression, say in his rendition of Schubert’s song Auf dem Wasser zu singen, from the same September 1929 session, can intimate purring ripples or titanic surges, as required. Of the seven Electrola transfers, the two Liszt etudes certainly insist that we hear them again, for their combination of strength and color. The gift for pianistic lyricism may well have derived from Petri’s having mastered the violin even before his keyboard gifts had fully formed. Like Moiseiwitsch dynamically, Petri never becomes percussive despite the monumentality of his chords and progressions: witness the three Beethoven sonatas recorded between December 1935 (Op. 111) and June 1936 (Op. and Op. 90) which proffer rhythmic subtlety, nuance, breadth of line, and unabashed passion without any trace of sentimentality.

Collectors will naturally gravitate to the Brahms inscriptions, of which the Op. 10 Ballades and Op. 118 Klavierstuecke (19 June 1945) emerge after a long sleep of seventy years. The application of “the new objectivity” in Busoni’s aesthetic finds its way to the A Major Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2 without the music’s having lost any of its compressed pathos. For sheer monumentality of expression, the two sets of Brahms variations – the Op. 35 from 1937 and the Handel set from 1938 – provide the raison d’etre for the entire set, if they do not already own them via Naxos. As in the Beethoven C Minor and “Hammerklavier” Sonata (14 March 1951), Petri’s grasp of the “long view” applies itself to each and every episode or change of affect. Petri’s extraordinary ability to clarify intensely contrapuntal lines in Bach, Liszt, and Busoni endows his playing of Franck’s Prelude, Chorale et Fugue (9 May 1940) with a singleness of purpose and an exalted luminosity. The resurrection of Columbia ML 4436, taken from inscriptions 9154 and 1951, provides us in improved sound several of the Schubert/Liszt transcriptions Petri had recorded prior, as well as alternately volatile and lyrical readings of such staples as Der Erlkoenig and Gretchen am Spinnrade. An idiosyncratic sense of rubato pervades the 1942 set of Chopin Preludes, but their poetic brilliance demands careful consideration.

When Petri’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto (10 November 1937) appeared on LP, one record critic actually lamented that good vinyl had been wasted to produce a piece of music already available on RCA LP, with Rubinstein and Mitropoulos!  As broadly songful as the version proves, as conducted by Walter Goehr, the two Liszt orchestral works – the A Major Concerto and the Ruins of Athens Fantasy (rec. 22 September 1938) – as led by the under-rated Leslie Heward (1897-1943), quite take our breath away for scintillating, seamless execution. Finally, if any one disc might stand in microcosm of Petri’s enormous talent and sonority, go to Disc 5, which features Bach and Beethoven from 1942 and 1945, and the magnificent Hammerklavier Sonata from 1951. Even the F  Major, Op. 10, No. 2 Sonata captures a tonal nuance and bass dynamic too often diminished by the limits of the acoustical technology of the period in which Petri recorded. While not every inscription demonstrates Petri at his best – the Liszt Mazeppa Etude a case in point – the musical intelligence, the canny use of pedal, and the infinite capacity for accuracy in each measure, a comprehensive artist whose range marked him as a rare master of his craft.

—Gary Lemco

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