Wanda Landowska — The Complete Piano Recordings 1937-1958 = MOZART & HAYDN [TrackList follows] – APR (3 CDs)

by | Dec 26, 2014 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Wanda Landowska — The Complete Piano Recordings 1937-1958 = MOZART: Piano Concerto No 26 in D Major, K. 537 “Coronation”; Fantasie in D Minor, K. 397; Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 332; Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 576; Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 311 (fragment); Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, K. 282; Piano Sonata in G Major, K. 283; Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 311; Rondo in A Minor, K. 511; Country Dances, K. 606; Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 333; HAYDN: Andante and Variations in F Minor; Piano Sonata No. 34 in E Minor; Piano Sonata No. 49 in E-flat Major – Wanda Landowska, p./ chamber orch./ Walter Goehr – APR 7305 (3 CDs) 78:28, 77:04, 77:21 (9/29/14)  [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

While Wanda Landowska (1879-1959) remains virtually single-handedly responsible for the revival of the harpsichord as a viable instrument for modern Baroque music performance, we must retain esteem for her ability at the piano. [Never mind that she also played authentic harpsicords but had her big Pleyel instrument designed specifically to play louder for the concert hall…Ed.] Landowska received instruction from Kleczynski and Michalowski in the Romantic keyboard tradition, especially as applied to Chopin.  For the music of Mozart, Landowska conscientiously decided to invest the modern piano with a studied touch in order “to obtain the color and particularities of the pianoforte” of Mozart’s time. Her aesthetic asserted that “grained sounds, comparable to the tapping of fine hammers, trace melodies of the purest bel canto. . .the authentic qualities of the pianoforte will be reborn in their freshness and novelty.”

Adding her own conception of ornament and improvisation to the Mozart ethos, Landowska fashioned performances of the Mozart and Haydn opera that elicited from critics praise that saluted her “most delicate and truest expressivity, in strength as well as in softness.” Olin Downes complimented Landowska’s “famous singing touch [suggesting] the . . .tones of the voice rather than the percussive apparatus of the instrument. . . .a model of style and of the difficult Mozart technique.” The marvelous recording of the “Coronation” Concerto (25 March 1937) with Walter Goehr stands as a testament to her thoughts on Mozart concerto realization. Perhaps even more haunting – or haunted – we have Landowska’s Mozart Fantasie in D Minor, which avoids any pesant effect from arm weight and thus embodies a disturbed world of rarified poise that moves to sunny affirmation.

Producer and Recording Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn, who in 1993 helped Biddulph (LHW 013) revive Landowska’s 1937-38 Mozart recordings, now resuscitates those same inscriptions along with the two sets of RCA LPs (LM 6044 and LM 6073) devoted to Mozart and Haydn piano sonatas, recorded 1956-1958.  As a kind of dividend, we receive a reminder of the politics of the period from 14 January 1938, in the form of Landowska’s partial recording of Mozart’s Sonata in D, K. 311, a document meant to be thoroughly demolished by the Nazis, who deemed Landowska – despite her family’s long conversion to Roman Catholicism – a Jewish artist (and also gay) whose work should not be preserved.  The sonatas in F, K. 332 and D, K. 576, too, benefit from rediscovered matrices denied to their 78 rpm incarnation. We must concur with Virgil Thomson, listening to this magnificent torso of a performance from 1938, that her sense of tonal and dynamic weight “is matchless.” Happily, RCA captured her complete thoughts in May, 1956 from her Steinway B recorded at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut (as she later always did). The perfect merger of Mozart and Chopin occurs in the Rondo in A Minor, in which Mozart’s vocal style well adumbrates the improvisatory and contrapuntal style of the later Polish romantic. Her rendering of Mozart’s K. 606 Country Dances ties his aristocratic style to the ingratiating laendler of Franz Schubert.

Besides the huge scale of the Mozart B-flat Sonata, K. 333, the third disc contains Landowska’s Haydn inscriptions from 11 November 1957 (Andante), 14 February 1958 (E Minor), and E-flat Major (December 1957).  Pianists as diverse in temperament as Dohnanyi, Brendel, Backhaus, and Landowska have found in the 1793 Andante  and Variations in F Minor moments of sublime revelation.  She can apply an alla musette sensibility ad libitum, add grace notes, and shift registers much in the manner of her Romantic compatriot Paderewski, who would admonish, “What is important is not the written note but what the musical effect should be.” Majesty of conception and thorough control of the musicality of her ideas resonate in the two Haydn sonatas, despite the occasional intrusion of Connecticut “ambiance” and electrical appliances into the recording process. The musical aggregate in this compilation should grace every serious collector of keyboard documents. [And the sonic enhancement is primary, bring these recordings up to present-day standards, though mono…Ed.]

—Gary Lemco

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