Nadia Reisenberg: The Remastered HAYDN Recordings, 1955-1958 – Nadia Reisenberg, piano – Romeo Records

Nadia Reisenberg: The Remastered HAYDN Recordings, 1955-1958 [Selection List Below] – Nadia Reisenberg, piano – Romeo Records 7324/5 (2 CDs) 72:13, 76:17 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Nadia Reisenberg’s 1950s Haydn programs receive new and astonishingly cleargloss from Romeo Records.

Romeo Records refurbishes the series of Haydn performances that Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983) produced for the Westminster label, 1955-1958, that had originally appeared on three LPs and then found their way in 1998 onto Ivory Classics (70806) under the supervision of Michael Rolland Davis.  Although Reisenberg had “virtually retired” from active concert life by 1947, she made periodic appearances in the recording studio and at chamber music venues when the spirit and the camaraderie so moved her.  The initial reaction to Reisenberg’s Haydn—rare enough at the time on records, with only occasional incursions into this vast repertory by the likes of Artur Balsam and Erno von Dohnanyi—proved unanimous and definitive: “[Reisenberg] has an unfailing understanding of classical form and spirit,” vaunted the Detroit Sunday Times. Robert Sherman, Ms. Reisenberg’s son—and a former colleague from my days at WQXR-FM – has re-arranged the Haydn works into two distinct groups of variations and sonatas, with the piano sonatas’ having been arranged chronologically from the 1766 Sonata No. 13 in G Major (entitled “Partita”) through the Sonata No. 60 in C Major and the Sonata No. 62 in E-flat, composed c. 1795.

Each of the sets of variations demonstrates both the composer’s inventive spontaneity and Reisenberg’s deft arsenal of keyboard technique, sturdily aggressive, focused, and eminently clear in architectural delivery. Always we feel the nature what Rachmaninov termed “the point,” that is, the sense of a teleology and fixed line of musical purpose. The galloping figures—that soon evolve into a fluid legato—in the charming (and broadly conceived) Arietta and Variations in A (1771) might well serve as a pedagogical model for many an aspiring pianist.  Reisenberg’s metric sense proves no less miraculous, negotiating Haydn’s witty and challenging shifts of rhythmic pulse and their concomitant changes in emotional affect. The real find among these “smaller” gems remains the magnificent Andante Varie in f minor, a truly empfindsamer (emotional) construct of a double theme and variations that traverse major and minor modes, a predecessor for the third movement of the Beethoven Ninth.

In the course of auditioning Reisenberg’s sequence of piano sonatas, we discern Haydn’s own development, incorporating Viennese, French, and Italian traits into his imaginative creations, many of which display as much wit as musical gravity. Early, we hear the residual effects of Scarlatti and C.P.E. Bach in Haydn’s style. That Mozart’s influence becomes evident appears in a work like the Sonata No. 55 in A-flat, composed c. 1783. In the “galanterie” of the Menuet from the G Major Sonata we savor Reisenberg’s capacity for pearly play and canny pedal effects. A lovely, Italian cantabile marks the Adagio, followed by a Finale: Allegro molto that bears Scarlatti’s imprimatur in every turn of phrase. The moment Reisenberg concludes this movement, I wish we had her Soler on disc for dessert.

Reisenberg communicates a delightful snap and vigor to the opening of the Sonata No. 50 in D, conceived for the sisters Auenbrugger, of whom Haydn remained proud of their musicality.  The brilliant runs and percussive chordal interjections testify to the demands Haydn assumes a master of the instrument accepts with verve and breathtaking finesse. The standout lies in the Largo e sostenuto movement, a somberly martial episode, a kind of sarabande ripe for chromatic treatment an passing dissonances. Under Reisenberg’s hands, the work becomes one by Bach.  Attacca, Reisenberg moves to the sprightly Presto, an “etude” in touch and plastic dynamics. A major contrast occurs with the Presto of the 1784 Sonata No. 53 in e minor, music that seems a hybrid of Scarlatti and Beethoven. The gravity of the movement belies its quick tempo, so strong is its urge to “Storm and Stress.” The extended meditation that comprises the Adagio easily anticipates Beethoven. Reisenberg’s lacunae and silences prove as pregnant as her liquid line and sturdy trill. A nervous urgency suffuses the last movement, Vivace molto, whose playfulness seems rife with a sense of mortality.

If the Sonata No. 60 permits Reisenberg to express wit and bravura, the last in the series, Sonata No. 62 in E-flat combines the grand, classical style with Romantic imperatives of spirit. Bold modulations and terraced dynamics point almost directly to Beethoven’s Op. 2, No. 3, while maintaining Haydn’s mischief and poignant inner life.  The slow movement (Adagio), set in an unorthodox E Major, compels us to listen carefully to a voice that must have whispered to Chopin. If we had settled into “contemplative” or “profound” mood, the last movement Finale: Presto hurls us back to an impish, irreverent earth that Reisenberg invests with mirth, music-box clarity, and eminently polished elan.

—Gary Lemco

Selection List:
Capriccio in G; Arietta con Variazioni in A
Fantasia in C
Arietta con Variazioni in E-flat Major
Tema con Variazioni in C
Andante Varie in f minor
Sonata No. 13 in G Major
Sonata No. 35 in A-flat Major
Sonata No. 50 in D
Sonata No. 53 in e minor
Sonata No. 60 in C
Sonata No. 62 in E-flat Major

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