The Lost Art of Jacob Lateiner – Work of SCHUBERT, BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, CHOPIN, BERG Etc. – Parnassus (2)

by | Nov 20, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

The Lost Art of Jacob Lateiner = SCHUBERT: 3 Impromptus, D. 899; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111; BERG: Sonata, Op. 1; BRAHMS: Paganini Variations, Op. 35; CHOPIN: Preludes, Op. 28: Nos. 21-24; Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53; Fantasie-Impromptu in C-sharp Minor, Op. 66; PROKOFIEV: Toccata, Op. 11; MENDELSSOHN: Scherzo in E Minor, Op. 16, No. 2 – Jacob Lateiner, piano – Parnassus PACD 96051/2 (2 CDs) 72:54; 76:18 [Distr. By Qualiton] ****:
Jacob Lateiner (1928-2010) maintained a cult status among music connoisseurs, his having taught at the Mannes College of Music and at the Juilliard School. A pupil of Isabelle Vengerova and Arnold Schoenberg, Lateiner cultivated both a fondness for the Romantic repertory and the moderns, his having premiered the 1967 Piano Concerto by Elliott Carter. Lateiner’s performance of the knotty Op. 1 Sonata of Alban Berg (1908) testifies to his innate sympathy, even passion, for this music. Record collectors likely first heard of Lateiner either from his early CBS or Westminster recordings; or more likely, from his association with the Heifetz-Piatagorsky Concerts, in which he inscribed works by Beethoven and Brahms.
The two Parnassus discs proffer recitals from two venues: the 1 March 1964 recital from the Frick Collection, New York; and the 11 January 1977 program from the Juilliard School, New York.  Lateiner opens the 1964 program with three of the four impromptus from Schubert’s D. 899, each played vigorously, briskly, but without any sacrifice of color and nuance. In Schubert and Beethoven, the model of Artur Schnabel’s intellect and sensitivity to the vertical, harmonic motion of the works dictates their sense of structure. The quicksilver strength of Lateiner’s Beethoven Op. 31, No. 3 will come as a pleasant surprise, given the clarity of digital articulation Lateiner provides. The staccati of the opening Allegro, particularly, retain a deliberate character, even in their often humorous attire. Lateiner lavishes no end of pains on sonic balances, some of which appear in clusters that presage the Second Viennese School. Despite some metallic clicks in the tape, the performance holds up well: the Scherzo communicates playfulness and explosive demonism at once. Lateiner’s natural arioso rises to the occasion in the Menuetto, a decidedly lyrical evocation that transcends the galant medium that encases it.
The sheer ebullience of the Presto’s moto perpetuo impetus astonishes for its fleet lightness and the clarity of the attacks, this despite some deterioration in the source.
The quintessential encore piece, Prokofiev’s Toccata in D Minor, Op. 11, Lateiner offers in the middle of his program, the recurrent D’s and chromatic thirds that might daunt lesser technicians merely a sauce for the auditory delight Lateiner lavishes upon us. The two hands assume an aggressive independence that startles and dazzles, while the cascades and dervish-like scales form vaporous eddies that convince us that Lateiner was an heir to Horowitz! After the Prokofiev, the Chopin preludes seem to carry on the impulsive sweep of the former, especially in the Byronic B-flat Major Prelude and G Minor; but certainly in the demonic D Minor that we still associate with actor Hurd Hatfield in Dorian Gray. In the midst of these turbulent seas, the liquid F Major glitters in the sun of a refreshed optimism. The mercurial, concentrated mazurkas from Op. 33 remind us that Lateiner admired Ignaz Friedman as an exponent of these paeans to Polish nationalism. The D Major quite rocks with infectious, elemental power; the B Minor becomes a minor epic, alternately strutting and announcing in heraldic terms its grand ethos. The “Heroic” Polonaise merely extends the conceit, a singularly taut, even breathless, vision of this oft-performed piece. Lateiner himself introduces the Fantasie-Impromptu, a poetic lightning bolt of its own, flawlessly rendered and highly personal, this despite a less-than-perfect sound source.
The Juilliard recital permits us to savor (in stereo) Lateiner’s immaculate credentials in Beethoven, especially given the stylistic stretch that occurs between the 1795 F Minor Sonata and the 1822 C Minor Sonata. For the F Minor, we must admire Lateiner’s ability to transform the formulaic Manheim rockets of the opening Allegro into expressive gestures that move seamlessly to the A-flat theme and its eight note bass line. The sustained cantilena of the Adagio movement attests to the vocal power of Lateiner’s breathed phrasing. The metric ambiguities of the Menuetto have rarely sounded so eldritch as they do under Lateiner. The Prestissimo last movement possesses the mad fervor we have come to relish in Lateiner, augmented by the digital accuracy and mental acumen that imbue early Beethoven with a peculiar excitement.
So often, the epithet “transcendent” falls upon the C Minor Sonata: Lateiner makes the diminished seventh chords of the quasi-French Overture Maestoso section ring with existential menace, the jarring dissonances and prodigious bass chords reeking of death. The fiery transition to the Allegro has that stop-on-a-dime control we know from other venerable masters, Haskil, Backhaus, and Michelangeli, heady company indeed. At the same time, Lateiner infuses into the riveting tumult and velocity an underlying lyricism, even within the controlled, pointillist polyphony that might remind us more of Glenn Gould’s equally thoughtful approach. Lateiner has the Arietta sing, and the four variants that follow do so logically, embellished and syncopated in diverse ways that often look ahead to both Debussy and jazz procedures. The basic pulse Lateiner establishes girds the often florid and tempestuous work above, which seems to condense and then dissolve by degrees into chains of runs, trills, idiosyncratic scales and bare chords that resolve in major. The pregnant silence before the applause says volumes about the power of Lateiner’s reading.
Those who know Lateiner’s contribution to the Brahms C Minor Piano Quartet from the Heifetz-Piatagorsky Concerts, or his prior work on Westminster, will acknowledge his natural affinity for the composer. The bravura sets of Variations on a Theme of Paganini  have an eloquent and poetic spokesman in Lateiner, who finds music as well as technical prowess in his survey. A decided “bite” in the attacks makes the impetus of the evolution in the variants that much more compelling, along with the suppleness of the line. When Lateiner applies his “music-box” sonority in Book I, it comes as an oasis in the midst his often thick chords and graduated percussive power. So, too, Lateiner’s “gypsy” runs charm as well as dazzle. Book II permits Lateiner some old-world Vienna charm in addition to the Brahms penchant for block chords and hands in contrary motion. Quicksilver legerdemain dominates many of the remaining variations, but the arioso members enjoy a plastic refinement that will have auditors returning to this thrilling performance.
“I shall play a scherzo of Mendelssohn,” announces Jacob Lateiner, and the E Minor from Op. 16 graces the hall, all charm and leggierissimo, the roulades mesmerizing in their evenness and quick power. And so ends a real document to inspire seekers of pianistic mastery, a real labor of love from producer Leslie Gerber.
—Gary Lemco

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