Jorge Bolet: His Earliest Recordings – APR (2 CDs)

by | Nov 24, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Jorge Bolet: His Earliest Recordings = SAINT-SAENS: Etude en forme de valse; MOSZKOWSKI: En Automne; MENDELSSOHN: Hunting Song; Rondo capriccioso; LISZT: Funerailles; BEETHOVEN: Andante Favori in F Major; LECUONA: y la Negra Bailaba!; Danza de los Nanigos; GRANADOS: Andaluza; FALLA: Andaluza; Cubana; ALBENIZ: Prelude; Malaguena; Cordoba; PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16; CHOPIN: 4 Scherzos – Jorge Bolet, piano/ Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/ Thor Johnson – APR 6009 (2 CDs) 70:03; 68:12  [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
I had the good fortune to meet Jorge Bolet (1914-1990) in Atlanta in 1987, after he had performed with the ASO, and also after he had served as the guest-lecturer for Texaco’s Metropolitan Opera Intermission broadcast, in which he had displayed prowess and economy in discussing Liszt’s various paraphrases, reminiscences, and transcriptions of selected operas. Bolet first came to my attention as the featured pianist on the film soundtrack for Song Without End, starring Dirk Bogarde. There was an Everest inscription of Liszt. His Boston recordings and his Remingtons, here remastered by APR, were long out of print; and although his was the first recording of the Prokofiev G Minor Concerto, the work itself was rarely performed, and I only heard it for the first time with Cherkassky and Krips at Carnegie Hall.
The 1952 Boston series opens with such “Recital Favorites” as the Saint-Saens Etude, brilliantly played but in thin distant sonics and a dry acoustic, despite engineer Seth Winner’s original ministrations. [But thankfully free of the awful surface noise of those Remingtons…Ed.] Still, Bolet enjoyed a thoroughly fluent technique witnessed by En Automne’s lithe runs and singing fioritura. Bolet enjoyed several fine Mendelssohn inscriptions, recalling old issues from IPAM; here, the Hunting Song, Op. 19, No. 3 rings with bold strokes and dazzling staccati. The Introduction of the Rondo capriccioso advances mysteriously, and the ensuing faeries’ dance dazzles with speed, accuracy, and the light hands. Liszt, Bolet’s potent trump card, storms forth in a massive Funerailles rendition rife with menace and poetically deep song. If ever a pianist could devour double octaves, Bolet’s appetite seems infinite. Beethoven’s Andante Favori, originally meant for the Waldstein Sonata, communicates a serene repose, relaxed but dramatically pointed and eminently lyrical.
From his album Airs of Spain, Bolet offers rousing performances of Lecuona’s two dances, y la Negra Bailaba! and Danza de los Nanigos, two fellow Cubans in perfect sympathy. The Granados Spanish dance Andaluza allows the sultry beauty of Moorish sensibility full sway. The Falla pieces invest staccati and modal scales with suggestive power that Bolet exploits to powerful persuasive effect. The feverish Albeniz Prelude, with its repeated, briskly jabbing chords, makes a perfect vehicle for Bolet’s suave technique. The middle section strums lulling guitars in the Alhambra. If Malaguena sashays in the vivid local colors of a young lady from Malaga, the final piece, Cordoba, flavored by what the composer called “sunlight and olives,” enchants us with its sonorous mystique, its sensuous wash of flowing registers, tender and acerbic at once.
Thor Johnson (1913-1975) leads the Cincinnati Symphony in the first recording of the Prokofiev 1913 G Minor Concerto, a real coup for Don Gabor’s Remington record label. The grueling piano part, opening narrante and soon extending itself over four octaves of the keyboard, serves as a kind of chaconne or ground theme that asserts itself through various permutations in development. But brilliant runs, large chords, and spans Bolet consumes greedily, and he manages to infuse a romantic legendary character to the writing. The climactic point of the first movement, with huge chords of D Minor against C-sharp Minor, still sends chills up one’s musical spine. The D Minor Scherzo Bolet whirls off at some superhuman rate of ten notes per second, a toccata of astonishing motor impulse. The weird Intermezzo movement returns to G Minor but in the manner of a sardonically grotesque dance interrupted by a romantic memory. Bolet’s other-worldly high register counters the leaping descents into a macabre abyss. The bass-rhythm that emerges anticipates the ostinato “lullaby” theme of the last movement. A rush to judgment opens the whirlwind Allegro tempestuoso last movement, and Bolet’s energies seem to excel themselves with each repetition of the galloping triads, staccato eighths, and leaping octaves. Yet, we never lose that sense of underlying romanticism that makes any Prokofiev epic piece haunting in its idiosyncratic percussive style. We hear in this 1953 performance the standard every subsequent pianist had to meet to qualify as a serious practitioner of this monster opus.
Bolet programmed the Chopin Scherzos for recitals in 1942 and 1958, the latter eliciting from critic Harold C. Schonberg the epithet “heroic in conception and pianistically daring.” Bolet’s 1953 Remington survey contains a plenum of “truth and poetry,” from the dramatic opening of the B Minor through the skittishly lyric E Major. The tiger in Bolet often alternates with the lamb, particularly in the B Minor’s middle section noel on the Polish version of “Sleep, little Jesus.” The only one of the set Bolet repeated in the recording studio, the B-flat Minor communicates epic sweep and Byronic shifts of temperament. When Bolet applies the velvet paw, the piano’s capacity for elegant legato has rarely sounded so lulling.
Possibly the most dramatically intense, the C-sharp Minor moves  through Liszt and Wagner before it settles on Chopin in an enharmonic D-flat Major chorale with rolling arpeggios. Through Bolet, we feel that Chopin’s spirit in this cogent work allies itself with that of Beethoven. The last of the set and least melancholy, the E Major elicits from Bolet a natural élan that soon breaks into a lovely song in A-flat Major that should immortalize his performance for a whole new generation of auditors, that long-awaited recognition Bolet fought for unceasingly and gained only late in his hard-won career.
—Gary Lemco
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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