Leff Pouishnoff: The Complete 78-rpm and Selected Saga LP Recordings =  Historic Recordings of Piano Literature- Leff Pouishnoff, piano – APR

by | Jun 27, 2017 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Leff Pouishnoff: The Complete 78-rpm and Selected Saga LP Recordings =  Historic Recordings of Piano Literature- Leff Pouishnoff, piano – APR 6022 (2 Discs) 73:49; 75:32 [TrackList follows] (6/20/17) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

APR  revives the legacy of Leff Pouishnoff, whose limited recorded work indicates a fiery personality who fell into decline.

Among the throng of musical talents nurtured by Odessa, Leff Pouishnoff (1891-1959) showed extraordinary prowess as a youth, and Fyodor Chaliapin encouraged Puishnoff to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study piano with Annette Essipova and with theory and composition teachers, Rimsky-Korsakov, Anatole Liadov, and Alexander Glazunov. Having toured with violinist Leopold Auer, Pouishnoff escaped the ravages of the 1917 Russian Revolution by migrating to Persia, and then to Paris and London. In 1921 and 1922 Pouishnoff performed at Wigmore Hall and at Proms concerts. He began making records for Columbia in 1922 and 1923 display his natural virtuoso technique, crisp articulation, melodic charm, rhythmic excitement, and a persuasive piano tone. Pouishnoff came to America in 1923-24; while in Britain by 1925, with the institution of the electrical recoding process (1926), he had already gained a repute as a Chopin exponent. In 1928, for the Schubert centennial, he recorded the composer’s Sonata in G Major, the only such piece of repertory to complement the A Major Sonata, D. 664 recording by Myra Hess.

In some smeary but pungent sound, Pouishnoff first plays on Columbia acoustics (rec. 1922) Bach’s Preludio from the E Major Violin Partita (and used as a cantata sinfonia, BWV 29), as transcribed by Saint-Saens, here in a dazzling, brisk rendition that occasionally tosses away notes. The little Chorus of Dervishes from Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens fascinated both Saint-Saens and Liszt, the latter of whom used in a fantasia for piano and orchestra that Egon Petri recorded in 1938. For Saint-Saens, it becomes a punishing etude for the wrists in shifting rhythm. Pouishnoff loves Schubert, so even in acoustic sound the tenderness shines through, here (1923) in the Ballet Music No. 2 from Rosamunde, in which the pianist adds his own ornaments and rubato. The Chopin “Butterfly” Etude has a deft lightness and thrust I might have ascribed to the same Josef Hofmann who played the piece at the MET. So, too, the c-sharp minor from Op. 10 seems to have been swallowed in one gulp, an astonishing gallop. The two Liszt concert etudes (rec. October 1922) seem tailor-made for Pouishneff, who sails through the scalar rigors of Gnomenreigen and its own agogic shifts, with an insistent bass line.  Pouishnoff approaches Waldesrauchen in February 1929 – and the Gnomenreignen once more – and the clarity of line finds immediate enhancement in the electrical process, and we can well feel the driving pulsation of his conception. The Debussy G Major Arabesque performance (1923) more than hints at Gieseking’s touch, although the tempo is quicker.  Pouishnoff recorded his teacher Glazunov’s Polka, Op. 42, No. 2 twice – in April 1923 and in May 1926 – the superior sound of the latter does not deny the sterling agility of the former, whose music-box character makes us wish he had indeed recorded Glazunov’s Op. 32.

The Rachmaninov Humoresque, Op. 10, No. 5 serves as the first of three documents of this composer, whose Fourth Concerto Pouishnoff was the first to perform in its revised version.  This first version of the Humoreque reveals a studied, controlled, dynamically layered character in spite of the leaping and forte figures.  The Prelude in B-flat Major (1927) has the earmarks of a Richter from an earlier age, a power performance tempered by Russian poetry and memories of Liszt. The Polichinelle from Op. 3 enjoys a brilliant irony close to Debussy and Stravinsky. Pouishnoff the composer contributes three items on 23 December 1923: his Quand il pleut has the Debussy touch in a rainy piece; the Petite Valse plays like wistful, fluent early Chopin; Music Box, exquisitely charming, bears a magic touch in the upper registers. The Schubert Moment musical in f minor in the Godowsky arrangement (May 1927) exerts a confidence that we already savor from Cherkassky.

The significant contribution, Schubert’s 1826 G Major “Fantasie-Sonata” (March 1928), reveals a plastic, dignified approach, sometimes fast, but never glib. Even the first movement development section, with its notorious fff, suffers no distortion or histrionics; in fact, Pouishnoff sets the music as an extended laendler. The Andante reverses the polarity, by its rather static surface which bears sudden interruptions in the martial, minor mode, only to settle calmly into ppp at the coda. The Menuetto in b minor at first seems an aggressive German dance as it later becomes tender in the disarming Trio section. The Allegretto exudes a robust, Viennese cheer, and we might assume Schnabel – if only he had the fingers! – is playing with exceptional brio and quick facility.  The sterling, restored sound, another of the fine efforts from Mark Obert-Thorn, demands that any radio tribute to this artist contain this lucid, persuasive performance.  The Schubert Impromptu in A-flat Major (March 1928), rather abbreviated, makes a good encore, if we accept it as an etude in speed and dynamic gradations.

Disc 2 opens with other Godowsky arrangements, here (20 May 1927) of the Albeniz sultry D Major Tango, which begs for more Iberian music from Pouishnoff. Saint-Saens’ The Swan (March 1929) has becomes a polyphonic etude of lyric power. The Paderewski Caprice comes from the same set of pieces that includes his ubiquitous Minuet in G: the Caprice reveals a sheer virtuoso piece, a perpetuum mobile in bravura style, alternately light and thunderous. Percy Grainger (20 May 1927) presents a peasant dance, Shepherd’s Hey, that often hints at Gottschalk.  At cut No. 6 we come to the HMV Chopin recordings of 1948: the “Aeolian” Etude in A-flat Major has steady pulse and fluid articulation, right there with the Louis Kentner reading. So, too the f minor, nuanced and lit by a clear bass line. The only mazurka offering, the introspectrive c-sharp minor, Op. 30, No. 4, dances cleverly in shifting accents, infiltrated by delicate fioritura: Pouishnoff, had there been more extensive mazurka work, might have made a good rival to Ignaz Friedman. The B Major Nocturne conveys more nostalgia than deep passion, a cross of reverie and regret: I might have attributed this performance to Alexander Brailowsky. The Grande Valse in A-flat Major lacks some of the physical aggression of Pouishnoff’s earlier style, but it carries itself with mellow grace and verve-filled panache of long experience.

The last five selections – taken from the Saga label recorded in 1958 – invite a lengthy “apologia” from annotator Michael Spring that discusses the rather scandalous mix-up that occurred, involving duplicated repertoire from Sergio Fiorentino for this same label.  Pouishnoff at this late point in his career – just prior to his death – had evidenced signs of decline and possible stage fright.  That the Chopin repertory lacks vitality becomes clear from the first, the Nocturne in E-flat Major, though the poetic touch remains.  The Berceuse simply becomes a metronomic, prosaic exercise occasionally lit by romance. The major piece, the Barcarolle, reveals a strong sense of form, but the dramatic element seems once more sacrificed to rhythmic precision, as if Charles Rosen were playing. The last of these stereo recordings, the Fantasie-Impromptu, does exert a power we have been missing; and here, I think of Claudio Arrau. The sense of transition, more fluent and facile, moves to the exquisitely etched melodic line, here without fatigue.

For his final contribution to his recorded legacy, Pouishnoff plays – in monaural sound – Glazunov’s 1900 Theme and (15) Variations in f-sharp Minor. An homage to his old teacher, the performance captures the essentially nationalist conventions in Glazunov’s writing, as often lyrical as they can be contrapuntal, as in Variation 7. The ninth variation has more interest for us: an Adagio tranquillo in A Major, it asks Pouishnoff for quasi campanelli, who accommodates with the required bells. The middle section, in F Major, offers sonorities we find in Debussy. Glazunov plays the minor/major modes of his main key in following variations, which eventually come to imitate aspects of Franz Liszt and Brahms, especially when Glazunov moves to G-flat and shifts the rhythm hemiola-fashion, two versus three.  Pouishnoff has maintained our musical interest throughout, with no lapse of technique or line.  A fitting tribute, this ending; and so our thanks to the producers, who include Obert-Thorn, Michael Jones, and Donald Manildi.


CD 1
The Columbia acoustics 1922–1923
BEETHOVEN/SAINT-SAËNS: Chorus of Dervishes
SCHUBERT/POUISHNOFF: Ballet music from ‘Rosamunde’
Étude Op. 25, No. 9
Étude Op. 10, No. 4
LISZT: Gnomenreigen
DEBUSSY: Arabesque in G major
GLAZUNOV: Polka Op. 42, No. 2
RACHMANINOV: Humoresque Op. 10, No. 5
Quand il pleut
Petite valse
Music box

The Columbia electrics 1926–1929 
SCHUBERT/POUISHNOFF: Ballet music from ‘Rosamunde’
SCHUBERT/GODOWSKY: Moment musical Op. 94, No. 3
Piano Sonata Op. 78
Impromptu Op. 142, No. 2
Waldesrauschen S145, No. 1
Gnomenreigen S145, No. 2
CD 2: 
The Columbia electrics 1926–1929 (cntd.) 
ALBÉNIZ/GODOWSKY: Tango Op. 165, No. 2
SAINT-SAËNS/GODOWSKY: The Swan (previously unpublished)
PADEREWSKI: Caprice Op. 14, No. 3
GLAZUNOV: Polka Op. 42, No. 2
Prelude in B flat major Op. 23, No. 2
Polichinelle Op. 3, No. 4
GRAINGER: Shepherd’s Hey

The HMV recordings 1948 
Étude Op. 25, No. 1
Étude Op. 25, No. 2
Mazurka Op. 30, No. 4
Nocturne Op. 32, No. 1
Waltz Op. 34, No. 1

The Saga recordings 1958
Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2
Berceuse Op. 57
Barcarolle Op. 60
Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66
GLAZUNOV: Theme and Variations Op. 72

—Gary Lemco

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