Dame Myra Hess in BEETHOVEN, BACH & SCHUMANN, 1950-60

by | Jun 10, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; BACH: Toccata in G Major, BWV 916 – Myra Hess, piano/ Scottish National Orchestra/ Alexander Gibson (Beethoven) BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Malcolm Sargent (Schumann)

BBC Legends BBCL 4178-2,   69:57 (Distrib. Koch) ****:

Collectors who relish the piano artistry of Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) will savor this compendium of three distinct dates in her annals of performance: the Beethoven B-flat Concerto dates from Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 30 August 1960; the Schumann Concerto from Royal Albert Hall, London, 18 September 1958; and the Bach from a BBC Studio session 13 October 1950. Hess often spoke of Beethoven as her favorite composer, he who “appeals more strongly to my own temperament.” Yet Hess made few Beethoven recordings as such, and it is through broadcast sources that collectors have accrued all the Beethoven concertos except the C Major. The BBC has already issued a Beethoven B-flat Concerto with Sir Malcolm Sargent from 12 August 1960 from Royal Albert Hall (BBCL 4028); two weeks later in Edinburgh she is in a more reflective mood, Gibson having established a slow paced opening movement in which Hess spins her diaphanous magic. The E-flat Major second movement Adagio enjoys some special, pearly execution, as in the unharmonized right hand passage con gran espessione statement and lovely text voicing. This was to be her last performance of this often-surveyed work; and despite the occasional finger-slip and stumbles on 16ths, the conception retains a deeply lyrical nobility. The happy, poised dialogues between young Gibson’s orchestra and the Hess responsorial in the last movement bubble and sing effusively.

The intimate affection Hess possessed for the Schumann Concerto manifests itself in the course of forty years of playing of this epic, lyric work. Hess made her commercial inscription of the Concerto in 1952 under Rudolf Schwarz; here, Sargent exerts more control in matters of strict tempo. After the first tutti march episode, Hess brings a kind of ethereal, dreamy aura to the piano part of the Andante cantabile, the winds and strings filling out the transparent texture. Again, her playing is less than perfect in the knotty cadenza, and she hurls some thunderbolts in the final octaves. Unforced, uninflated, the spirit of the music simply beguiles through the sincerity of its realization. The slow Intermezzo captures the eternal youth in Schumann’s fancy. The Allegro vivace basks in Schumann’s alternately gracious and tricky sonorities, the easy forward motions enjoying a plastic, sensitive line. The thunder of the finale hardly decays when the audience bursts into raptures. Bach’s three-part G Major Concerto seu Toccata was a Hess staple: she committed it to piano roll and to shellac 78s. Supple, crisp, eminently vocal. Hess adds a mordant here and there; the entries in the fugal third section are cleanly articulate. This 1950 inscription adds a lovely opus to the few Bach selections in her recorded canon. Perhaps the BBC will one day reissue the Lute Suite transcription and Schumann Carnaval that comprised more of her program.

— Gary Lemco