Eileen Joyce, piano: The Complete Parlophone and Columbia Solo Recordings – APR (5 CDs)

by | Oct 17, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Eileen Joyce: The Complete Parlophone and Columbia Solo Recordings = Works by BACH, ALBENIZ, d’ALBERT, BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, DEBUSSY, DOHNANYI, CHOPIN, FAURE, GRANADOS, GRIEG, HENSELT, HUMMEL, LISZT, MENDELSSOHN, MOSZKOWSKI, MOZART, PALMGREN, PARADIES, RACHMANINOV, RAVEL, SCHUBERT, SCHUMANN, SCOTT, SCRIABIN, SHOSTAKOVICH, SIBELIUS, SINDING, STAVENHAGEN, R. STRAUSS – Eileen Joyce, piano/ orch. conducted by Clarence Raybould (Mozart, K. 386) – APR 7502 (5 CDs) 78:28;  76:41; 69:07; 69:46; 73:59 [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] *****: 
Twelve years of active recording, 1933-1945, by the extraordinary Tasmanian-born pianist Eileen Joyce (1908-1991) grace these five discs, taken from rare shellacs housed at the International Piano Archive at the University of Maryland and transferred with utmost care by Mark Obert-Thorn. Percy Grainger called the young Joyce “the most transcendentally gifted child he had ever heard.” Joyce later studied with the legendary Tobias Matthay in England, 1930-1933. Claudio Arrau once commented upon Eileen’s “phenomenal dexterity,” and Earl Wild claimed “wonder” at her performance of the Eugen d’Abert Scherzo. Glenn Gould called her Mozart “truly extraordinary.” Gould’s judgment has its testimony on Disc 5, which offers a diaphanously athletic Mozart Sonata No. 12 in F Major, K. 332 (29 August 1941), and an equally persuasive Sonata No. 17 in D Major, K. 576 (5 May 1941), whose Adagio conveys galant serenity. The Romance in A-flat Major, K. Anh. 205 (3 September 1941), Gigue in G Major, K. 574, and Minuet in D Major, K. 355 (11 November 1941) provide delicate alternatives to performances by Edwin Fischer and Myra Hess, with no loss of musical “authenticity” of style.
The first three volumes devote themselves to the Parlophone 78s, while the last two share these shellacs with discs cut for British Columbia. That Joyce could become a tiger of the keyboard there can be little doubt, when we witness her thrilling flashes of genius in Liszt’s Valse oubliee No. 1 (18 December 1939), the Brahms Capriccio in D Minor, Op. 116, No. 7 (14 May 1935), Schumann Widmung in the Liszt arrangement (25 February 1936), the quicksilver Hummel Rondo in E-flat Major, Op. 11 (4 January 1935), and the two Schumann Novelettes (in D and A) from Op. 21 (7 April 1937 and 26 May 1939).  For blistering fusion of color and speed, Joyce’s rendition of two Cyril Scott works, Lotus Land and Danse negre (14 April 1937) should convert any keyboard enthusiast to a full believer. If pure fire fails to impress, what of her poetic moments in Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 32, No. 1 (3 May 1940), the Brahms Intermezzo in B-flat Major, Op. 118, No. 2 (11 November 1935), the Scriabin Prelude in E, Op. 11, No. 9 (11 November 1941), and Schubert’s Andante in A, D. 604 (7 February 1939).  Occasionally, the 78 rpm medium educed too much speed, as in the Brahms Rhapsody in E-flat Major, Op. 119, No. 4 (26 September 1934), or achieved a perfect balance of speed and feral poetics, as in the Liszt arrangement of Bach A Minor Organ Prelude and Fugue, BWV 543 (25 February 1936). The Mozart from Joyce does prove gossamer and unforced, as in the A Major Rondo, K. 386 with an unnamed orchestra under Raybould (2 February 1936), and the ever-familiar “simple” Sonata in C Major, K. 545 (26 May 1940).
It isn’t possible to offer comment on each item in this comprehensive assembly of Joyce’s work, but certain achievements stand out. On 24 April and 12 July 1939 Joyce inscribed a series of Nordic works: seven of the Lyric Pieces of Edvard Grieg; the Rustle of Spring by Christian Sinding; Stavenhagen’s Menuetto scherzando; Palmgren’s En route, Op. 9; and the D-flat Major Romance of Jean Sibelius. The Grieg set begins with a dragonfly’s rendition of the skittering Scherzo-Impromptu, Op. 73, No. 2, with its slower sections that presage Debussy. Equally mercurial comes Butterfly, Op. 43, No. 1; the tender Melody, Op. 47, No. 3 that suggests Borodin; the modally experimental Solitary Traveler, Op. 43, No. 2; the etude Brooklet, Op. 62, No. 4 with its rapid passagework and tremolandos; the eternal lyric and dramatic song To the Spring, Op. 43, No. 6; and concluding with Summer’s Eve, Op. 71, No. 2 whose opening monody seems derived from plainchant soon laced with pearls. The big Grieg work, the Ballade in G Minor, Op. 24 (3 May 1943) on Disc 5 represents a serious challenge to the famed inscription by none other than Leopold Godowsky. Disc 3, moreover, offers Joyce’s potent excursion into French music, with a deftly aerial and liquid Faure F Minor Impromptu, Op. 31 (11 August 1938) that awed pianist Cecile Ousset.  Both Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau (14 May 1935) and the sensuously erotic Toccata from Pour le Piano (28 October 1933) fulfill colorist promises made by Joyce’s wondrous Grieg inscriptions.
Disc 4 wastes no time on niceties and proceeds with a blazing 1938 Rachmaninov group, beginning with the tigress in the G Minor Prelude, Op. 23, No. 5, whose middle section beckons us to Eastern enchantments. The E-flat Major basks in modal languor whose bass line moves in restless ecstasies. The session of 11 January also renders a haunted C Minor Prelude, Op. 23. No. 7 and a Russian contemporary, Dimitri Shostakovich, in his Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 5. On 2 September Joyce added Rachmaninov’s swirling A-flat Major Prelude, Op. 23, No. 8 that demands incredible wrist stamina; the rhythmically potent A Minor Prelude, Op. 32, No. 8;  and the D-flat Major, Op. 32, No. 13 that plays like a colossal etude-tableau of many moods and conflicted passions.  If even this massive technique fails to impress, try Joyce’s Scherzo in F-sharp Major by Eugen D’Albert from this same 2 September session, a lithely muscular performance that floored Earl Wild. Erno von Dohnanyi’s C Major Rhapsody (11 January 1938) packs a powerful punch. For reverberant bass chords, try the Scriabin Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 11, No. 10 (11 November 1941). Two pieces by Stefan Bergman, Polka Caprice and Himmelgesang (31 May 1938), exert an alternatively impish and salon-study fascination. The Ravel Jeux d’eau (28 January 1941 for British Columbia) convinces us that Joyce could be a major exponent of Ravel’s music, and we wish she had inscribed his two concertos. So, too the Mendelssohn Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14 (29 April 1945) offers a relatively long cut in which to savor Joyce’s dynamic palette and masterly use of pedal effects. When the elfin figurations explode upon the scene, they cascade in a seemingly endless torrent of wizard’s energy. The disc ends with Joyce’s Beethoven: the mercurially dramatic Bagatelle in C, Op. 33, No. 2  and the universal favorite Bagatelle in A Minor “Fuer Elise” (15 May 1940).
A Chopin group, recorded 1940-1942, concludes this massive Eileen Joyce survey.  Joyce plays Chopin’s favorite Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3 (4 February 1941) with a combination of gentle poetry and fiery bravura. The Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 (8 July 1942) has the lyrical grace of a Neapolitan lullaby and the fire of an erupting volcano at once. Finally, the liquid thrall of Joyce’s A-flat Major Ballade, Op. 47 (15 May 1940), a study in graded dynamics and softly shifting registrations. A dazzling and charismatic virtuoso, this Eileen Joyce, and an honest keyboard titan, at that.
—Gary Lemco

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