Jascha Spivakovsky: Bach to Bloch, Volume VI – Jascha Spivakovsky, piano – Pristine Audio 

by | Jul 22, 2018 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews

The sixth volume in the Spivakovsky legacy adds virtuoso color to an already seamless stylistic presence. 

Jascha Spivakovsky: Bach to Bloch, Volume VI = BACH: “Italian” Concerto in F Major, BWV 971; MOZART: Sonata No. 5 in G Major, K. 283; SCHUBERT: Impromptu in E-flat Major, D. 899, No. 2; CHOPIN: Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2; Waltz in E minor, Op. posth.; LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 in A minor “Rakoczy March”; SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 14 “Concerto without orchestra” – Jascha Spivakovsky, piano – Pristine Audio PAKM075, 71:40 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Pristine’s Andrew Rose and commentator Mark Ainley collaborate to produce a sixth entry in the ongoing project to restore the immense talents of pianist Jascha Spivakovsky (1896-1970) to our musical present; here, in home and broadcast sessions, 1955-1966.

Spivakovsky opens with a 1962 broadcast of Bach’s 1735 Italian Concerto in F, a Weimar-period (1708-17) piece that originally exploits two manuals of the harpsichord to achieve the effect of a ritornello that advances between the tutti (large block chords with a deep bass) and the solo, whose range remains narrow and indulges in short-value notation. Spivakovsky focuses on both tonal articulation and rhythmic verve, a model of textural clarity. The Andante movement enjoys a fluid arioso line in thirds whose trills and thoughtful pauses contribute to a lyrico-dramatic effect, marked by long pedal notes.  What we admire in the vivacious Presto, its nimble fleetness, derives from Spivakovsky’s innate impulse for speed, propulsion, and a pungently sonorous, fixed rhythm in the left hand.

Mozart conceived his Piano Sonata No. 5 in G Major, K. 283 (1774) on his last visit to Munich, mostly to prepare for his opera La finta giardiniera. Eminently vocal in character, the first movement Allegro has Spivakovsky (1966, Melbourne) in delicate from, but not precious with the sonority of the bass notes in parallel octaves to the treble, avoiding the effect of undue ponderousness. Spivakovsky concentrates on the galant character of the Andante in C Major, his staccati the soul of etched articulation, much a la musette.  Accents and semi-detached chords run brilliantly in the final Presto, rife with humor and playful echo effects.  Those who have long cultivated performances of this sonata from Clara Haskil will find a vigorous, fertile rendition in this concept by Spivakovsky.

Portrait of Jascha Spivakovsky

Jascha Spivakovsky

From 1963, we now have the sole surviving moment of Spivakovsky’s Schubert, the E-flat Impromptu, D. 899, No. 2. So much of the texture resembles a Chopin etude, we must remark how the virility of the reading resembles the tensile strength we know from Lipatti’s last concert in 1950 Besancon. The martial element sings in resonant, resolute tones, but without any loss of harmonic or tonal, color subtlety. The digital force and stamina of line well reminds us of other virtuosos, Solomon and Michelangeli.

The two Chopin selections derive from 1966 (Nocturne) and 1955 (Waltz), respectively, and they conform to the rhetorical conventions of the Romantic sensibility, rife with rubato and luft-pausen, but never mawkishly sentimental.  Each possesses the arioso character that permits even declamatory figures their bel canto effect.  Much of the Nocturne rendition bears comparison with interpreters like Shura Cherkassky. The Waltz exhibits a highly subjective sense of tempo and line, voluptuous at moments.

Among Liszt’s nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, No. 15 in A minor (1853) treats the Hungarian march “Rakoczy” in the grand manner. Legend has it that Liszt could have published his treatment earlier, but that he indulged his friend Berlioz the privilege of using the work first, as part of his The Damnation of Faust. At his home, 1963, Spivakovsky produces a stellar performance, rife with alternating textures, tonal thickness, and variety of glossy color. The sheer delight in alternating touches and the presence of cimbalom effects adds to the colossal vitality of the reading. As “orchestral” a performance as we are likely to hear—and that includes from Horowitz—the capacity of Spivakovsky to unleash his purely bravura personality remains too good to miss!

This volume of Spivakovsky efforts concludes with the knotty Concerto without orchestra, Op. 14 by Schumann, performed by Spivakovsky in 1963.  Schumann wrote his third “grand sonata” in 1836, revising it in 1853, with a dedication to virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles. Spivakovsky emphasizes the expansive nature of the opening Allegro, whose development section, built in melodic fragments, owes debts to Beethoven. Many of the galloping motives anticipate the large Fantasie in C, Op. 17. Still, even Spivakovsky’s tension cannot always hold the rhapsodic nature of the music together as an effective, dramatic whole that offers a true sense of closure. Schumann marks the second movement Scherzo—Allegro comodo, a “comfortable”playfulness. Spivakovsky treats the music like a stately but percussive minuet with third-beat accents. The tender Trio gravitates into D Major and D-flat Major and then B minor, the last affect’s assuming a vague organ sonority from Spivakovsky.

The Trio material appears to have generated much of Schumann’s response to a theme by Clara Wieck, his future wife, in the form of Quasi Variazioni for movement three. The original, martial tune begs for chromatic treatment in the harmony, and Schumann indulges this and adds his idiosyncratic counterpoint. He falling figure in variation three moves to a perfect fourth, a trait Brahms will exploit in his own variation technique. Both in pitch and rhythm the fourth variant echoes the Scherzo. Spivakovsky bass harmonies again rival the organ for potent sonority. Schumann always remains the master of through-composed works, exploiting early materials in later permutations, and so his Finale exploits early tunes in right-hand bravura figures and syncopations. Several of the dancing figures will easily recall both Kreisleriana and the Humoreske, highlighting Schumann’s delight in self-reference. For sheer delight in keyboard sonority and color combination, this reading of Schumann will invite repeated audition.

–Gary Lemco

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