Piano virtuoso Nadia Reisenberg’s “personal elation” in making chamber music with gifted friends and colleagues.

Nadia Reisenberg – Live Chamber Recitals and Home Solo Performances = WEBER: Grand Duo Concertante, Op. 48; MOZART: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498 “Kegelstatt”; BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11 “Gassenhauer”; Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 16; MOZART: Pastorale Variee; LISZT: Spanish Rhapsody; DVORAK: Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81; GLAZUNOV: Valse Allegretto in D, Op. 42, No. 3; CHOPIN: Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 42; Nocturne No. 20 in c-sharp minor, Op. Posth. – David Glazer, clarinet/ The Galimir String Q. (Dvorak)/ Members of the Budapest String Q. (Beethoven Op. 16)/ David Glazer, clar./ David Soyer, cello (Mozart, Beethoven, Op. 11)/ Nadia Reisenberg, p.  – Romeo 7318/19 (2 CDs) 78:20, 74:50  [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Despite having virtually “retired” from the active concert stage in 1947 in order to fulfill her teaching duties and her parenting role, Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983) once more commands our attention in a series of chamber (and solo) works organized by her son, producer and commentator Robert Sherman.  With the help of archivist Donald Manildi and engineer Seth Winner, these concerts receive a new and often vivid presence, a marvelous addendum to the Reisenberg recorded legacy which, for my money, has always warranted expansion. I have a few personal stakes in this production beyond my merely reviewing it: I used to serve with Bob Sherman at WQXR-FM as a much-invited guest on “First Hearing’; I was a student at SUNY Binghamton while David Soyer and the Guarneri String Quartet enjoyed their residence there; and I had the major good fortune to be Budapest Quartet’s second violin Sascha Schneider’s breakfast guest in New York after having reviewed his concert (as conductor) of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

As Robert Sherman explains, the recorded performance of Weber’s 1816 Grand Duo “replaces” an aborted – meaning the loss of the finished master copies – Columbia Records project that had evolved after the success of the Brahms E-flat Major Clarinet Sonata with Benny Goodman. The performance from Mannes College (8 May 1963) demonstrates the natural virtuosity of both principals, Glazer and Reisenberg; and intentionally so, since Weber conceived the piano part for his own hands, which could encompass huge spans. A kind of “loyal opposition” marks a great deal of the writing, dialogues between equals. The lyricism of the Andante con moto reveals Reisenberg’s own enthusiasm for the proposed recording, and the brisk interchanges and cascading runs that comprise the Rondo: allegro finale testify to a natural – perhaps elective – affinity for these artists to a bravura piece to which they can full justice.   

Cellist David Soyer joins Glazer and Reisenberg for Mozart’s 1786 “Kegelstatt” Trio, again from the same Mannes College concert. Mozart’s fondness for clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler motivated his generous creativity in the repertory, and the athletic Menuetto movement celebrates Mozart’s affection for the instrument, which he first heard in 1764 London.  If Soyer only occasionally has an opportunity to shine in the opening Andante, he comes to the fore with his triplet motions in the second movement.  The fluid playing of the last movement covers the fact that Mozart conceived a seven-part rondo in which the Glazer’s fluid tone and Reisenberg’s suave runs proffer an art that conceals art.  The microphone placement, somewhat distant in Soyer’s part, still exhibits an elegant and briskly effective series of entries. We return to Mannes College on 8 December 1963 for a run-through realization of Beethoven’s Op. 11 Trio in B-flat Major, the so-called “Gassenhauer,” since its last movement melody derives from Weigl’s opera The Corsair and its famous “Street Song.” Beethoven will proffer nine variations on this popular tune in his Tema con variazione.

All three principals reveal their top-notch expertise in this jaunty work from the outset. The Allegro con brio no less asserts Beethoven’s harmonic audacity in the first movement, with his key change for the secondary theme. The Adagio permits Soyer his moments in the sun with the highly expressive tune with which the music opens.  Glazer, of course, offers a melting version of the same tune, and the harmonization by all three plays we call magic. In the variation movement, Beethoven alternately major and minor versions of the theme, but at No. 6 he also uses imitation between Reisenberg’s hands and the two other instruments. The virtuosic trills and dancing allegretto at the last two episodes assert the kind of pianist Reisenberg will soon offer (on this disc) in her solo entries.

The first of the “home” recordings of 1951, made on a much-touted 1940s Brush Soundmirror reel-tape machine, begins with the apocryphal Pastorale Variee attributed to Mozart as K. 209B by Koechel.  Reisenberg approaches this galant jewel with delicate clarity and aristocratic grace, Reisenberg calling cards. The sundry ornaments – especially lavish trills – and rhetorical flourishes come off as an instrumental piece of coloratura vocal music.  The Liszt Spanish Rhapsody on “La Folia,” however, catapults us into another dimension, one occupied by the titans of Romantic keyboard gestures: Horowitz, Hofmann, Bachauer, Berman, and Cziffra. This kind of bravura lies only steps away from the more colossal of the Transcendental Etudes, and Reisenberg climbs this Matterhorn with one deep breath of oxygen. On the other hand, no less authoritative, come Glazunov’s lilting waltz from his “Three Miniatures,Op. 42, the brilliant, wickedly knotty 2/4 Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 42 of Chopin, and Chopin’s posthumous c-sharp minor Nocturne in a performance that rivals my personal favorite by Maryla Jonas in both its intimacy and its suave allusions to the f minor Concerto. 

The two remaining large ensemble piece involve a number of illustrious names in chamber music, including Jac Gorodetsky, Boris Kroyt, and Mischsa Schneider from the Budapest Quartet and the Galimir Quartet (1929-1993).  The Beethoven E-flat Piano Quartet, Op. 16 (16 November 1952) comes from a radio broadcast from WNYC. Everything about this performance glows with an open and intimate affection: the long Grave introduction soon transitions via Reisenberg in to a spirited Allegro ma non troppo, often symphonic in expression.  The Andante cantabile offers us a rondo in variations, in which Boris Kroyt’s viola speaks especial warmth, as does Schneider’s cello.  The last movement, sprightly rondo in 6/8 whose theme resembles the finale from Mozart’s Concerto in E-flat, K. 482, embellishes a kind of hunting motif that gains swagger and rarified energy from these participants.

The piece de resistance, for me, lies in the Mannes College Concert from 23 November 1980, when Reisenberg and the Galimir Quartet perform Dvorak’s lustrous Piano Quintet in A. The recording – made in stereo – captures an intensity and fluency of execution that will rival the best performances of the period and even before, such as those by Firkusny, Balsam, and Curzon, with their respective collaborative ensembles.  The Curzon – with the Budapest Quartet, coincidentally – most resembles the musical decisions made by the seventy-six-year-old Reisenberg and her colleagues.  While the first two movements sent me into raptures – Timothy eddy’s cello alone warrants the price of admission – the Furiant gave me chills, especially in the transparency of the Trio section. Then, before going on to the blazing Finale: Allegro, I thought about how much I had savored their rendition of the Dumka second movement, especially when the tempo becomes accelerated. So, I repeated it prior to forwarding to the last movement.

Finally, my sincere thanks to producer Ron Mannarino for his commitment to these Reisenberg restoration projects, thus giving us a pianist whose stylistic universality will now remain available to generations of musically-inquiring minds and hearts.

—Gary Lemco