Paderewski: His Final Recordings = HAYDN: Variations in F Minor; MOZART: Rondo in A Minor, K. 511; BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”; SCHUBERT: Moment musical No. 2 in A-flat Major; CHOPIN: Nocturne in F-sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2; Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1; WALTZ IN c-SHARP Minor, Op. 64, No. 2; Mazurka in F-sharp Minor, OP. 59, No. 3; Polonaise in A-flat Major, OP. 53; WAGNER-LISZT: Isolde’s Love-Death; PADEREWSKI: Chants du voyageur: Melodie; Humoresques de concert: Minuet in G – Ignacy Jan Paderewski, piano
APR 5636, 75:27 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
This sound documents places at our disposal the last HMV sessions, 1937-1938, of a titan of the keyboard, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), who reigned as the darling of the concert hall as both composer and virtuoso pianist. The film Moonlight Sonata established the aging lion once more as an icon of musical and personal enlightenment. The several large pieces that open this recital, moreover, reveal to us the intellectual aspects of his virtuosity, as in the Haydn Variations and the A Minor Mozart Rondo, neither of which lends itself to bravura display for its own sake, but rather asks the performer to impose a rigor of logic and harmonic inevitability on the progressions. When the digital magic still cooperates, there are some deftly powerful moments, as most of the 1937 recordings attest: the virile–if metrically wayward–Polonaise in A-flat (30 January 1937) whose middle section tells of plumed Hussars and national glory; the disarmingly effective Moonlight Sonata (30 January 1937); and an etched, poised Chopin Nocturne on F-sharp Major that bespeaks many a romantic conquest.
The 15 November 1938 sessions prove more problematic: here, even producer Fred Gaisberg detected a noticeable decline in Paderewski’s powers, “a lack of virility.” Two new pieces attach to the Paderewski legacy, the Tristan transcription by Liszt, and the B Major Chopin Nocturne, are quite convincing. The former exults in intricate, three-voice harmony and pearly accents in Isolde’s reminiscences of grand passion, the cascades descending into the crossed hands of consummation. The Schubert Moment musical in A-flat, however, suffers a leaden moribund approach whose occasional neurotic flashes of poetry do not redeem its essentially skewed vision. Real energy exerts itself in the F-sharp Minor Mazurka, making us wish that, like contemporary Ignaz Friedman, Paderewski had devoted more shellacs to this most endemic of Chopin forms. What charming scintillations of the belle epoque await those who care to waltz in C-sharp Minor with Paderewski! Finally, two miniatures from the Master himself: his Melodie from Op. 8 offers a hybrid barcarolle-gavotte, rather bass-heavy but rife with salon Tchaikovsky; and the ubiquitous Minuet in G, a bonbon to rival Beethoven’s bagatelle in the same key. Plastic, eminently vocal, it sings of a noble spirit whose imagination and fingers always celebrated the divine. Loving quiet restorations by Bryan Crimp make us marvel all the more.