Michael Zadora: The Complete Recordings, 1922-1938 = Works of BACH, CHOPIN, BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, BUSONI, DEBUSSY, FIELD, HUMMEL, LISZT, PERGOLESI, PROKOFIEV, SCARLATTI & others – APR (2)

by | Dec 25, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Michael Zadora: The Complete Recordings, 1922-1938 = BACH: Sarabande e Partita in C; BEETHOVEN: Ecossaises; CHOPIN: Waltz in A-flat Major; Waltz in B Minor; Waltz in C-sharp Minor; Nocturne in B Major, Op. 32, No. 1;  Etude in F Minor, Op. 25, No. 2; Etude in G-flat Major, Op. 25, No. 9; Etude in A-flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1; Waltz in D-flat Major “Minute”; Prelude in B Minor; Prelude in A Major; Prelude in F-sharp Major; Prelude in F Major; Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 67, No. 4; BRAHMS: Intermezzo in B-flat Minor, Op. 117, No. 2; BUSONI: Sonatina No. 6 after Bizet’s “Carmen”; Sonatina No. 3; Sonatina No. 5; AMADIS: The Prima Ballerina; Vienna Waltz; Meine Puppe Tanzt; DEBUSSY: Prelude and Toccata from Pour le Piano; DELIBES: Valse lente; Pizzicati; FIELD: Nocturne No. 5 in B-blat; HENSELT: Larghetto from Concerto in F Minor; HUMMEL: Rondo in E-flat Major; JENSEN: Murmuring Zephyrs; LAMARE: La Passion; LISZT: Consolation in E Major; Consolation No. 2 in E; Consolation in D-flat Major; Consolation in No. 5 in E; OFFENBACH: Barcarolle; PERGOLESI:  Arietta; PROKOFIEV: Prelude in C Major; RAFF: La Fileuse, Op. 157, No. 2; RUBINSTEIN: Romance in E-flat Major; SCARLATTI: Pastorale (arr. Tausig); SGAMBATI: Prelude in E-flat Minor – Michael Zadora, piano

APR 6008 (2 CDs) 71:53; 66:51 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Compiler and producer Mark Obert-Thorn has assembled the complete recordings of Berlin resident Michael Zadora (1882-1946), one of the rare spirits who studied with Busoni–by way of Leschetizky and Barth–who found the recording studio more convivial to his temperament than the public venue of the concert hall. Inconsistency of tone, tempo, and rhythm seems to have plagued Zadora in his public appearances, but no such flaw intrudes on these forty-five inscriptions bequeathed us, of which the first twenty-seven derive from acoustic shellacs, 1920-1922. Somewhat like his contemporary Josef Hofmann, Zadora composed under a pseudonym, Pietro Amadis, and three of his works find their way into this collation.

The Chopin waltzes demonstrate taste and plastic rhythm, a fine facility to shade both tempo and nuance. Even in the brisker passagework there is none of the “cyclonic” temper that smeared too many performances on the concert stage. The B Major Nocturne for Polydor (1922) gleaned repute in its own time for charm and refined intimacy. Zadora embraced the Chopin etudes as his own vehicles, and his F Minor (“Bees”) displays wonderful control and homogeneous dynamics. The “Butterfly” Etude flutters at a blinding speed, but never so hasty as to ruin the arch Zadora creates. Were the “Aeolian Harp” Etude from Op. 25 in more modern sound, we might savor the uncanny tonal palette–on a fine Bluethner instrument–that Zadora controls; even so, the moment swells into a gauzy curtain of serene harmony. The B Minor Prelude moves liquidly but glib; the A Major applies infinite degrees of ppp. The F-sharp Major Prelude suggests a world of Zadora nocturnes, each a precious gem. The F Major Prelude becomes that magical pool from which Jon Justin gazed in Thief of Bagdad. Like contemporary Ignaz Friedman, Zadora enjoys a natural affinity for a Chopin mazurka, here the A Minor from Op. 67, all pearls from an epicure.

Likely, Zadora came to the six Liszt Consolations as a way to ingratiate Busoni, whom he met in Berlin in 1923. The poetic side of Liszt emerges in liquidly meditative tones, especially in the second E Major piece. The famous D-flat Major, a staple for Jorge Bolet a generation later, peals in diaphanous droplets of sound, a seduction piece par excellence. The Raff piece, “La Fileuse,” shimmers for the salon, a series of bubbly arpeggios. Sgambati’s Op. 6 Prelude carries more punch, especially in the left hand, so it really seems an etude by another name.  Hofmann, too, favored the amalgam attributed to Scarlatti in the form of a Pastorale (Kk 478). Zadora exerts a sweetly poised line, delicate, balanced, cleanly articulate. Zadora arranged a Pergolesi aria, “Se tu m’ami, se sospiri,” for solo piano, a lover’s lament. Zadora plays Busoni’s own arrangement of Beethoven’s lightweight Ecossaises, pert, limber, and eminently charming. Rubinstein’s salon Romance in E-flat Major draws idiosyncratic rubato from Zadora. The Brahms Intermezzo, however, indicates a superb sense of the style, understated but perfectly autumnal in the fin-de-siecle evocation. The Field Nocturne No. 5 sounds like pretty, watered-down Chopin, its little trills afterthoughts. Zadora’s (aka Amadis) own pieces, like those of Godowsky, display quick digital and steely wrist control, though the musical content remains rather vapid. The electrical disc of Meine Puppe Tanzt (for Ultraphon, 1930s) displays a witty talent for clown gestures.

The series of inscriptions cut between 1929-1938 enjoy the fuller acoustics of the electrical recording process, and so the more resonant aspects of Zadora’s bass tones move forward, as do his various subtleties of rhythmic nuance. He reviews (on a fine Bechstein instrument) the Minute Waltz and the C-sharp Minor Waltz in flighty colors, rife with personal rubato. Prokofiev’s C Major Prelude shimmers and quakes with resonant energy, a superlative technique at work. La Passion by Lamare enjoys a virile baritone voicing, complemented by breathed phrases. So, too, Murmuring Zephyrs by Jensen  exploits diaphanous runs and bell tones in cascading sequences, empty but pretty. Zadora substituted the Steinway for his subsequent recordings, and we hear an immediately bolder effect in the Bach Sarabande e Partita in C, BWV 990. Intelligent and urbane, this fiercely lithe Bach indicates what Zadora might have made of Handel’s Chaconne or even huge swaths from the Goldbergs. The two excerpts from Debussy’s Pour le Piano end Zadora’s association with Polydor, and though they speed through the music with a manic intensity, they reveal a wealth of color and dynamic control. The 1929 Polydor inscription of the sixth Busoni Sonatina (on Bizet’s Carmen tunes) extends directly the composer’s tradition of cool brilliant contrapuntal facility in hard, almost geometrically objective lines.

From the Ultraphon label of the 1930s we hear first Zadora’s transcription of Offenbach’s Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann. Despite some tinny acoustics, the plasticity of the rocking motif lulls us in rainbow harmonies. The transcription from Henselt’s F Minor Concerto “Larghetto” movement captures our fancy for a past romantic sensibility. The last of the Ultraphons, Hummel’s wrist-breaking Rondo in E-flat, exerts enough gliding speed and frenetic energy to compete with the later rendition by Gyorgy Cziffra. Two Delibes transcriptions for Electrola flutter and prance for drawing-room effect. But the 1938 inscriptions for the Friends of Recorded Music Society of Busoni’s own Sonatina No. 3 “Ad usum infantis” and No. 5 “In diem novititates Christi” urge us to consider Zadora more deeply, as an exponent of the New School of polyphony and renaissance affect in their learned intellectual union.

–Gary Lemco

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