P0832. MYRA HESS, w.John Kuypers Cond. University of Illinois Sinfonietta: Concerto #9 in E-flat, K.271; Concerto #21 in C, K.467 (both Mozart), Live Performances, 17 & 18 March, 1949. (England) Appian APR 5539. Transfers by Bryan Crimp. Final copy! - 5024709155392
“Myra Hess hated recording. In that she was hardly unique but even amongst musicians of her generation the disparity between studio and live recordings is extreme. This [issue] of her live American recordings from the University of Illinois in 1949 is therefore a valuable opportunity to appreciate more fully the exploratory and frequently more galvanized responses of the pianist in the, to her, more human arena of a concert hall.
Hess recorded little Chopin commercially….The existence of the Op.49 Fantasie and the Op.18 Waltz is therefore doubly outstanding; all the more so as it reveals aspects of her playing either subsumed or only hinted at elsewhere. Her Chopin is unexpectedly fiery. The Fantasie is a tour de force of romantic expressivity with some truly thunderous playing aided by some pretty liberal pedalling; the effect is to my ears over-intense and, whilst not out of control, at least unconstrained. What can’t be denied is the passionate conviction of it, its enveloping and declamatory fervour. If you think of Hess from her commercial discs as an adept and discreet performer, playing with patrician restraint, then start here and prepare to be disabused. The Schubert Sonata receives a good performance. Surprisingly, it lacks precisely those qualities of insight and revelation that mark the greatest traversals but in its gemütlich way it is commendably well played, with convincing articulation, though never really probing much beneath the music’s surface.
The Dances are another matter. This thirteen-minute confection comprises German Dances, Waltzes and Ländler and is inimitably introduced by Hess herself. She plays them with such mastery of tone and timing, such thoughtful playfulness and with such evident enjoyment and energy that they are simply irresistible. The Brahms and Scarlatti were staples of her concert giving life and every bit as good as one would expect….We can only be grateful that so much was preserved and that the restoration has made so much listenable.
The University of Illinois Sinfonietta is enthusiastically variable. Wind counter-themes are barely audible in the first movement of K467 and the prominence of the piano allows us to hear Hess’ crystalline runs as, equally, the submerged strings encourage us to concentrate on her articulation of the passagework. She is quicker in the opening movement than she was seven years earlier with Heward - only to be expected given the live nature of the music making - with gains in quicksilver responsiveness. She is especially successful in the sheer limpidity of her phrasing in the slow movement and her perky and lithe playing in the finale. Rather delightfully we can hear her asking the audience if they want to hear the finale again and she then gives it as an encore. As in the Heward recording she uses Denis Matthews’ cadenzas.
Her K271 was recorded the following evening. There is here an engaging and rather stimulating frisson between soloist and orchestra. John Kuypers encourages a rich patina of romantic phrasing within a broadly romanticised frame. Hess is expressive and wholehearted but less obviously romantic than the orchestra and the creative tension engendered is most appealing. There’s no denying the murky sound of orchestra or the sudden drop-out in the slow movement though. Here is Hess, at fifty-nine, playing her beloved Mozart in the most congenial of surroundings and still in infectiously good form.
Bach and Beethoven make up the bulk of the disc – composers especially associated with her – and they deepen our appreciation of her gifts. The Overture of the Fourth Partita explores the tensions and compromises inherent between accented and legato phrasing. Predominantly she favours a steady, fluid and legato style in the Partita, though one capable of generating heat as the conclusion to the opening shows. In the ‘Allemande’ it is noticeable - and this is not, I think, a quirk of the recording level - that she suppresses the left hand to an appreciable degree - not to limit interdependence of hands or to nullify articulation but rather to create a free flowing and treble oriented sonority. When she chooses simplicity - as in the ‘Aria’ - she is impressive and when she requires momentum - but not motoric vitesse - as in the concluding ‘Gigue’ she is assured and memorable. Conversely in the opening movement of the ‘Tempest ‘sonata, after the mysterious and veiled ascending run, Hess is more than happy to conjure strong left hand accents, powerfully shaped lines and a strong and decisively melodic impress. She is indeed effortlessly powerful at 4:30 - power without undue force and certainly without forcing through the tone. There is a splendid set of terraced dynamics in this movement and her sense of drama is genuinely engaged at the conclusion. Her chordal weight in the ‘Adagio’ and her geniality bring a Haydnesque sense of propriety to the movement; it’s unfortunate that the last few bars of this movement and the very opening of the Allegretto have been lost. She is quite heavy in this final movement, rather emphatic with elegantly rhythmic playing. It’s not the most elemental of ‘Tempests’; more equable and sculpted it looks back as much as it looks forward.”
- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWebInternational
"Myra Hess (1890-1965) was among an elite of pianists who approached their instrument as a means of conveying music as a spiritual experience. In her youth she was prepared by Tobias Matthay, who also instructed Clifford Curzon. Hess was in contact with violinist Jelly D'Aranyi, pianists Fanny Davies and Carl Friedberg, all acquaintances of Brahms. Her enlightened playing transformed even what sounded as passage work into significant musical statements. Her career began with a debut under Sir Thomas Beecham and made her an instant favorite with British audiences. Tours in the United States and throughout Europe endeared the public to her artistry. During the Second World War, the contents of London's National Gallery were emptied for safe-keeping during the threat of German air attacks. To bolster the public's morale, Hess organized and performed in hundreds of lunch time concerts at the Gallery. She was later ennobled for her efforts. Arturo Toscanini acknowledged her valiant effort by inviting her as one of the first European artists to perform in New York with his symphony after the war's end. It was a noble gesture, but the performance suffered from the Italian conductor's inability to allow the soloist to choose a proper tempo.
Like Artur Schnabel, Hess eventually modified her programs to dwell on the late sonatas of Beethoven, Schubert, suites by Bach, and Romantic era concertos. An avid chamber-music player, she collaborated with Pablo Casals, Pierre Fournier, Joseph Szigeti, and others. Illness in her last years curtailed her concerts but Hess was able to occasionally broadcast from the BBC studios. Hess hated to record but obliged and left several hours of disc recordings. Far more indicative of her playing are the radio recitals preserved and published on CD."
- Allan Evans, 1998