Jose Iturbi – The Victor and HMV Solo Recordings – APR (3 discs)

by | Jul 16, 2016 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BJose Iturbi – The Victor and HMV Solo Recordings [TrackLists follow] =  APR 7307 (3 CDs), 73:15, 72:35, 65:56 (7/1/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

A master pianist from the past, whose recordings may interest many today.

The name of Jose Iturbi (1896-1980) invokes mixed reactions from classical music enthusiasts: Iturbi earns credit as a fine pianist and musician – including extended service as a conductor – with some reservations about his decision to follow a “populist” path by way of his Hollywood “matinee idol” associations. Yet, few could dispute Iturbi’s mastery of keyboard technique, gleaned from Maria Jordan and such luminaries as Joaquin Malats, Victor Staub and Wanda Landowska. The fluidity of Iturbi’s style perhaps best finds expression in his Mozart, of which we have here – assembled by master engineer Mark Obert-Thorn – two piano sonatas; these to complement his famed recordings (on the Ivory Classics label, 70908) of the F Major Sonata, K. 332, the 2-Piano Concerto and D Minor Concerto, the former concerto with his gifted sister, Amparo.

Besides the stylistic Mozart works – praised by William Kapell as “the evenest playing I know” – the Chopin group, recorded 1944-1952, reveals a firmly muscular style, quite supple, and balanced by an innate capacity for bravura, as in the ubiquitous A-flat Major “Heroic” Polonaise.  Played less for stylistic subtlety but rife with plastic rhythmic fluency, the Iturbi’s Fantasie-Impromptu captivates in its dynamic tugs-of-war.  Iturbi’s sense of rubato informs, without undue sentimentality, the two waltzes, those in D-flat “Minute” and C-sharp minor. A canny schwung infiltrates the one mazurka in the set, that in B-flat Major, Op. 7, No. 1. This sense of robust phrasing already makes itself manifest in the Bach Fantasia in C Minor (12 May 1941) on Disc One. Iturbi’s poetic line convinces us – as it will in his Spanish selections – in Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, from a fruitful series of sessions in August 1952. Iturbi’s bass trills compel us in the Prelude in E, and his left hand proves no less potent – aided by a ‘symphonic’ sonority – in the “Revolutionary” Etude from 7 September 1949.

In order to survey Iturbi “the power pianist,” I auditioned first the Rachmaninov Prelude in C-sharp Minor (15 October 1946), whose performance tolls Russian bells with grim authority.  In the same, stentorian mould comes the Marche Funebre of Filip Lazar (2 September 1937), though an exotic harmonic syntax softens the clangor. Both massive and refined in quicksilver figures, Iturbi’s Allegro appassionato of Saint-Saens (7 October 1946) oozes flair and unbridled brilliance. Much of the right hand filigree combines aspects of Liszt with Spanish rhetorical tropes. The Albeniz Sevilla (22 August 1933) projects a study, galloping and martial impact, while its middle section invokes seductive guitars.  The Old Moorish Castle by Lopez-Chavarri (13 August 1952) surges forth, refusing to sing merely, as Mussorgsky’s old castle does. The natural locale for keyboard pyrotechnics, Falla’s Dance of Terror and Ritual Fire Dance (21 July 1950), explode with vibrant, coiled colors. Few pieces compare to Morton Gould’s inflamed Boogie Woogie Etude (6 December 1944) for the jazzy, populist style gone viral and long-hair.  One could argue Debussy’s Jardins sous la pluie (5 August 1952) qualifies as an etude; certainly, Iturbi eschews anything like a Gieseking approach, Iturbi’s catapulting its repeated notes and runs into the stratosphere.

The remainder of the set explores Iturbi, the poet-pianist; and of these, a few items must recommend the rest. The Granados Oriental in C Minor from his Spanish Dances (1952) speaks volumes of Iturbi’s ability to color a melodic line with alert pedal. In this regard, concerning Iturbi’s sensitivity for nuance, listen to his shades in the first piece of the collection, Scarlatti’s B minor Sonata, K. 27 (29 December 1933). A delightful “sleeper” comes to us by way of Beethoven’s Andante favori in F (29 December 1933), a “well-wrought urn.” Iturbi first recorded the Deux Arabesques of Claude Debussy in 1939: these realizations rain ice crystals, dreamy and voluptuous. “The phrase should flow like oil,” quipped Mozart, and many an Iturbi run fulfills Mozart’s decree. The later (July 1950) version emphasizes vibrancy, acid delivery of tone, and slurred color shifts: maybe Iturbi had watched Ben Hecht’s Portrait of Jennie. The sedate Reverie by Debussy testifies to a lyrical romance in Iturbi’s arsenal, as does his Liszt Liebestraume No. 3 (9 September 1949). If his Les jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este (17 October 1946) does not quite shimmer as lustily as that by Cziffra or ring as gossamer as Arrau, it testifies to a fierce command of the style: we will do well to recall that in 1930 Iturbi presented at Carnegie Hall one of the first complete sets of the Transcendental Etudes.


CD 1 (73’15)

  • 1-2 SCARLATTI Sonatas in B minor, Kk27 & C major, Kk159
  • 3 J S BACH Fantasia in C minor, BWV906
  • 4 PARADIES Toccata
  • 5-10 MOZART Piano Sonatas in A major, K331 & F major, K332
  • 11-12 BEETHOVEN Andante favori in F major; Für Elise
  • 13-14 SCHUMANN Arabesque, Op 18; Romance, Op 28/2
  • 15-16 LISZT Liebesträume No 3; Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este

CD 2 (72’35)

  • 1-9 CHOPIN Polonaise, Op 53; Fantasy Impromptu, Op 66; Waltzes, Op 64/1 & Op 64/2 Mazurka, Op 7/1; Nocturne, Op 32/1; Preludes, Op 28/9 & 10; Étude, Op 10/12
  • 10-11 TCHAIKOVSKY June & November from ‘The Seasons’
  • 12 RACHMANINOV Prelude, Op 3/2; 13 PADEREWSKI Minuet in G major
  • 14 LAZAR Marche funebre; 15 SAINT-SAËNS Allegro appassionato, Op 70
  • 16-20 DEBUSSY Clair de lune; Rêverie; 2 Arabesques; Jardins sous la pluie

CD 3 (65’56)

  • 1-2 DEBUSSY 2 Arabesques
  • 3-5 ALBÉNIZ Sevilla; Córdoba; Malagueña
  • 6-9 GRANADOS The Maiden and the Nightingale; Spanish Dances Nos 2, 5 & 10
  • 10 LÓPEZ-CHAVARRI The Old Moorish Castle;
  • 12-13 FALLA Dance of Terror & Ritual Fire Dance
  • 14 INFANTE Sevillañas;
  • 15-16 ITURBI Canción de cuna; Pequeña Danza Española
  • 17-18 GOULD Blues; Boogie Woogie Etude

—Gary Lemco

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