C1445. CHARLES MÜNCH Cond. Boston S.O., w.BYRON JANIS: Piano Concerto #3 in d (Rachmaninoff), Live Performance, 28 Dec., 1957 (Symphony Hall, Boston); Piano Concerto #2 in A; Piano Concerto #1 in E-flat (both Liszt), Live Performance, 30 July, 1961 (Tanglewood). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-345. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Byron Janis became one of the most brilliant of his generation of American pianists before his career was cut short by illness. At the age of 7 he was taken to New York, becoming a pupil of Adele Marcus, then of Joseph and Rosina Lhévinne. In 1943 he made his professional début playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #2 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York, with Frank Black conducting. In 1944 he repeated the same concerto in Pittsburgh with 13-year-old Lorin Maazel conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Vladimir Horowitz was in the audience, and subsequently invited Janis to study with him. Then Janis embarked on a successful career as a concert pianist, including a 1948 tour to South America, and a 1952 tour of Europe.
In 1960 Janis was chosen as the first American artist to be sent to the Soviet Union, opening a newly formed Cultural Exchange between the USSR and the United States. The result was a brilliant Mercury Living Presence LP that is an all-time classic, pairing the Rachmaninov First and Prokofiev Third concerti. Aided by exemplary sound recording, the Prokofiev in particular is still regarded by many connoisseurs as the work's finest recorded interpretation. In 1995 the CD version won the Cannes Award for Best Reissue. He interrupted his career in the late '60s at the onset of an illness, and temporarily resumed it in 1972. Soon however, his concert appearances became more rare.
Meanwhile, in 1967 he had discovered the manuscripts of two previously unknown Chopin waltzes in Paris, and in 1973, two variations of them, also in Chopin's hand, at the Yale Library. This led to a 1978 French television documentary, FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN: A VOYAGE WITH BYRON JANIS, in which he detailed the difficulties in determining the authentic versions of Chopin's music.
In 1985 he was invited to perform at the White House. On that occasion he publicly disclosed the nature of the illness that had hampered him for nearly 20 years: psoriatic arthritis affecting his wrists and hands. The ailment had not prevented him from continuing to play piano well, but it often made it impossible to play to his former high standard.
In the meantime, he devoted much of his energy to teaching, composing, and humanitarian concerns. He became Ambassador of the Arts for the Arthritis Foundation, often playing in fund-raising concerts. He is Chairman of the Global Forum Arts and Culture Committee. He is on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music, and works on the Board and Music Advisory Committee for Pro Musicus, an international organization devoted to helping young artists.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“Byron Janis is one of the truly great legends of North American pianism (including Canada) which occurred during this incredibly fertile period from the 1950’s headed by William Kapell, Glenn Gould, and Leon Fleisher, and which also includes Julius Katchen, Van Cliburn, Gary Graffman, John Browning, and Leonard Pennario. Of this distinguished group, the only two great pianists who are still with us, today, are Byron Janis and Leon Fleisher.
I can hardly wait to see this proposed new film about Byron Janis. He continues to inspire all of us pianists with his imperishable recordings of Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and the works of so many other great composers for the piano. This film project by Martin Scorsese, once realized, will be undoubtedly a wonderful tribute to the life of one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. I look forward to it with great anticipation and enthusiasm.”
- Gerald Robbins, slippedisc.com, 8 Jan., 2016
“It’s difficult to articulate what makes Münch’s conducting special – or indeed if there even is anything identifiably unique about it. A lesser talent would simply turn out generic, cookie-cutter performances; but Münch was anything but generic. He was one of the most musical of conductors; in so many of his performances, everything simply sounds ‘right’. Certainly, his experience as an orchestral musician gave him a lot of practical insight into the mechanics of directing orchestra traffic. But a classic Münch interpretation never sounds calculated. Spontaneity was one of his hallmarks, sometimes to the surprise and discomfort of the musicians playing under him. From one night to the next, a Münch performance of the same piece might be very different, depending on his mood of the moment – yet it would always sound like Münch.”
- Lawrence Hansen, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2012