Jakob Gimpel, piano – Works of CHOPIN, LISZT, SCRIABIN & MENDELSSOHN – MeloClassic

Jakob Gimpel, p. = CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20; Scherzo No. 2 in b-flat minor, Op. 31; Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante in E-flat Major, Op. 22;  Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Major, Op. 36; Etude No. 11 in A Minor, Op. 25; Mazurka in c# minor, Op. 63, No. 3; Mazurka in A-flat Major, Op. 50, No. 2; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53; LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in c# minor; MENDELSSOHN: Song without Words in f# minor, Op. 67, No. 2 – Jakob Gimpel, piano – MeloClassic MC 1031, 69:24 [www.meloclassic.com] ****:

Jakob Gimpel (1906-1989) enjoyed – or suffered, depending upon one’s perspective – an illustrious career marked by swathes of neglect, if not abuse. More known visually – in selected glimpses – as “that pianist who appeared in a film sequence,” Gimpel made appearances in Hollywood (as in Gaslight and Possessed) when regular concert venues were denied him.   Having successfully participated in the first International Chopin Competition in Warsaw (1929), and having proved instrumental, with Bronislaw Huberman, in establishing the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (1937), Gimpel would be denied the acclaim he deserved, especially his special training from both Edward Steuermann and Alban Berg. Given the thorough hegemony over New York City concert life by Isaac Stern, Gimpel’s absence from Carnegie Hall becomes easily rationalized.

MeloClassic resurrects selections from two recitals that embrace a goodly repertory not available in other sources, including the Cambria discs produced from Gimpel’s appearances at the Ambassador Auditorium in Los Angeles. From 22 February 1956, in Stuttgart, we have eight potent examples of Gimpel’s often incandescent playing, as in the voluptuously explosive Fifth Sonata of Alexander Scriabin.  Only the opening piece, Liszt’s Twelfth Rhapsody, seems eccentric, frenetic, and overly histrionic, though the digital antics remain peerless.  The Chopin works more than justify Gimpel’s high reputation in the music of this composer. The B Minor Scherzo enjoys wizardly and poetical impulses in its outer section, while the aerial noel of its trio section demonstrates Gimpel’s natural ease with the Chopin style. The Impromptu No. 2, long a Gimpel favorite and proffered encore vehicle, flows with an exact pulse and continual color nuance. The elastic rubato of the Andante spianato exhibits the old-world charm we associate with such luminaries in this piece like Josef Hofmann.

The Frankfurt recital of 6 October 1961 yields two works, the Chopin Second Scherzo and a Mendelssohn Song without Words.  The Scherzo proves rather briskly driven, without any undue sentimentality. Gimpel’s Chopin tends to remain understated, often opting for a naïve simplicity of expression that actually casts a pristine light on music that has been too often contorted to suit a “personality.”  The Mendelssohn carries a light, etude character, suggestive of a dainty hunting-motif. The brisker filigree more than suggests that either of the Mendelssohn concertos would lie easily and gratefully under Gimpel’s fleet fingers.

—Gary Lemco

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