Julian von Karolyi = LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; Valse oubliee No. 1; La Campanella; DEBUSSY: Prelude No. 8 “La fille aux cheveux de lin”; Prelude No. 9 “Serenade Interrompue”; Prelude No. 12 “Feux d’artifice”; RAVEL: Jeux d’eau; Ondine – Julian von Karolyi, p./ Grosses Berliner Rundfunkorchester/ Johannes Schueler (E-flat Concerto)/ Heinzkarl Weigel – MeloClassic MC 1012, 62:30 [www.meloclassic.com] ****:  

The studio recitals captured here featuring Hungarian pianist Julian von Karolyi (nee Gyula Karolyi, 1914-1993) date from 1943 and 1944, and they reveal a tempered artist raised in the old-world European tradition which Alfred Cortot embodied and passed on to his acolytes.  The plastic rubato and Romantic inflection Karolyi brings to the two Liszt concertos – the E-flat Concerto (18 March 1943) and the A Major Concerto (17 May 1943) – superbly instantiate how thoroughly ingrained were his filigree and rhetorical strategies for the Liszt style, poetic as well as dramatic. Despite the distant sonic image, the visceral excitement of the occasion quite rivets our musical attention.  I do wish MeloClassic had provided a bit more spacing of the tracks between distinct selections. [You can enlarge them in the downloads…Ed.]

How utterly German is Korolyi’s approach to Debussy (8 October 1944), quick and alert, much in the style of E. Robert Schmitz. No sentimental pausen mark “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.” The “Interrupted Serenade” shimmers with nervous tremolos and idiomatic Spanish rhythm. Lovely shades of pedaled harmony and flying colors mark Debussy’s “Fireworks,” rife with cascading and broken arpeggios. A cold, sober but fervent approach, we might liken the Karolyi touch to the “philosophical” piano artistry of his “objective” contemporary Eduard Erdmann. The playing, robust and articulate, basks less in smeared colors that Gieseking attained by uncanny pedal effects. Karolyi’s Ravel, also beginning with a startling lack of “preparation time” between tracks, enjoys a spectacular color gloss. The Jeux d’eau absorbs much of the Liszt keybord technique and transposes the “Villa d’Este” to a liquid, silver bath of mercurial impulses.  Suddenly, the demonic mermaid Ondine appears, the first of the Gaspard de la Nuit triptych. The metric pulse periodic architecture, completely controlled and graduated by Karolyi, emanate a sensuality and digital finesse that warrants our hearing the entire suite, should it exist.

The hour-long recital concludes with Karolyi’s beloved Liszt, the coquettish Valse oubliee No. 1 in F-sharp Major and the ubiquitous Paganini Etude “La Campanella.” There is much of the later Gyorgy Cziffra in Karolyi’s quicksilver Valse, which moves with glib alacrity and impish grace, touched by melancholy. The “Little Bell” of Paganini proceeds with equally lithe confidence, the virtuosity on a level with what we have in Liszt from Mischa Levitzky, and that says something. The sheer fluency of repeated notes will stagger auditors who know something of wrist action and simultaneous degrees of competing touches. Bravura playing that retains its wits and its poise needs more publicity, so let us have more of the Karolyi legacy.

—Gary Lemco