P0921. Brahms: Behind the Notes - Performances by Brahms’ Colleagues and Pupils, incl. Alfred Hoehn (w.Max Fiedler Cond.Berlin Radio Orch.), Etelka Freund, Carl Friedberg, Ilona Eibenschütz & Joseph Joachim. Arbiter 160, recorded 1903-52, partially Live Performances, several never before released. Long out-of-print, final copy! - 604907016025
"The continued appearance of pre-war radio recordings never fails to excite the collector of historic material. This one was carried off by the Red Army in 1945 as war booty. Much of this booty was only returned to Germany in 1988 but as Allan Evans of Arbiter comments, there are almost certainly more artefacts in Moscow, or elsewhere, that have yet to be made available.
The pianist in Brahms’s First Piano Concerto is Alfred Hoehn in a performance given with the distinguished Max Fiedler in 1936. This is historically important for all sorts of reasons. Hoehn only made a few recordings: three of Chopin and one Scarlatti-Tausig, a very meagre discography indeed for the Thuringian pianist who took first prize at the 1910 Anton Rubinstein Competition in St Petersburg, where he beat a certain Arthur Rubinstein into second place. Hoehn had earlier studied with Lazzaro Uzielli in Frankfurt, as had Cyril Scott (the English composer dedicated his Piano Sonata No.1 to Hoehn) before going on to Busoni and d’Albert in Berlin. Both Hoehn and Fiedler knew Fritz Steinbach, Brahms’s esteemed colleague in Frankfurt. Thus, whilst one wouldn’t wish to elevate it unreasonably, there is a strong sense of association, lineage and cultural self-awareness involved in this milieu.
The performance is a remarkable one in many ways. It enshrines considerable rhythmic latitude, with elasticity an aesthetic prerequisite. The first movement has notable breadth as well, with Fiedler powerfully applying downbeats and slowing rhetorically for the pianist’s first entry, a moment of real raptness in this performance. This fascinatingly discursive tapestry, non-linear and often introspective, is also imbued with strength. Though it’s certainly not brisk, indeed it’s one of the slower performances you’ll encounter (in the opening movement at least) it all sounds structurally comprehensible. The slow movement is very expressively shaped, indeed limpid in places. Hoehn was famed for his poetic and quiet playing and if this is a true reflection, then those critical comments are quite right. Fortunately the piano is quite forwardly recorded so one can admire Hoehn’s desynchronous chording, as one can in the Rondo finale where dynamics are again shaped with constant variation, from a whisper to a roar. So, indeed, this is a restoration of real significance.
With the exception of Joachim’s much reissued 1903 recording of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.1 in G minor, the rest of the programme consists of previously unissued piano music. All the pianists are important and were part of Brahms’s circle. Etelka Freund was coached by Brahms when she was studying in Vienna. These two Op.76 performances date from 1951 when she was 72 and preserve her ‘swung’ rhythm and singing tone. Carl Friedberg also plays the same Intermezzo that Freund does, but in a very different way, a touch brisker and more colour-consciously. This 1949 live performance is rather scuffy. Better recorded is the early Scherzo in E flat where we can hear a marvellously fluent and exciting private performance. Brahms once said of the young Ilona Eibenschutz that ‘She is the pianist I best like to hear playing my works’. She made a few, very rare and sought after discs in 1903, the same year as Joachim’s discs, but wasn’t to be heard again until private recordings were made of her playing. She recorded the Ballade in B, and three Intermezzi, to go with those 1903 sides of the Ballade in G minor and two waltzes. Her playing, half a century on, is inevitably more laboured, but it shows the Brahms (and Clara Schumann) lineage surviving well into the second half of the twentieth century, and is paramount stylistic interest.
This is a most accomplished and historically significant disc. The notes are excellent and transfers assured.
- Jonathan Woolf, musicweb-international.com
“Here is the first live recording of ALFRED HOEHN, a pianist no longer remembered, as he died at a modest age and recorded only four short works, yet is usually referred to as a poet whenever his name appears. A wondrous performance comes to light, immediately startling in approaching the piano’s entrance: a familiar arrival is hypnotically guided by Fiedler’s stealthily delving the orchestra into a vanishing point to reveal space for the piano’s initial hushed tones, intimating a secret narrative exploring its inner life, the music becoming rescued through their insight….Piano competitions were relatively new when Hoehn arrived in Petersburg in 1910 where he took first prize in the Anton Rubinstein Competition, playing Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. Arthur Rubinstein, a rival candidate, smarted at losing, gloating in an autobiography over his soaring career compared to Hoehn’s modest one. Judging them as musicians, Hoehn was the deeper artist, reaching extremes in delicacy and refinement, playing boldly at white heat, without limits.”
- Allan Evans, Program Notes
“ETELKA FREUND was an original. Most of these recordings were made in the latter part of her life under less than optimal circumstances. Having them readily available is truly a special and guilty pleasure for me. Her older brother was a good friend of Brahms who brought her into the composer's circle, and Brahms rightfully admired her playing. This lends a particular authority to there performances, which are very different from those of Backhaus, for example. The nimbleness of her fingers and the speeds at which she plays are stunning, especially for an 80 year-old in performance.”
- Dr. Harold J. Sauer
“ILONA EIBENSCHÜTZ (1872-1967) was a Hungarian/Jewish pianist. She studied with Clara Schumann from 1885 to 1890). A great prodigy, she became a close friend and favorite pianist of Johannes Brahms whom she first met in 1885 or 1886, and gave the world premiere of some of his piano works at his request. She formed a trio with Piatti and Joachim in London. Her career was short as she retired after her early marriage.
Eibenschütz said of Brahms that he ‘played as if he were improvising, with heart and soul, sometimes humming to himself, forgetting everything around him. His playing was altogether grand and noble, like his compositions’."
- Rick Robertson, UNDER THE PIANO STOOL
“CARL FRIEDBERG was a pianist with bona fide ties to the old world of the 19th Century. He knew Clara Schumann and Brahms, and in the 1880's played extensively for them. He performed as soloist under Mahler and was associated with many other now legendary musicians of the golden era…."
- David Mulbury, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Jan./Feb., 2004
“Joseph Joachim was one of the greatest violin soloists of all time, a friend of Johannes Brahms, and an interesting composer whose music, while not ranking with that of the great masters of classical music, is vivacious and enjoyable. Joachim made his début in Leipzig in a concert with Clara Schumann and Mendelssohn. He made a London début in March 1844, receiving acclaim and beginning a popularity with English audiences that lasted all his life.
In 1850, he took his first adult job, as concert master of the orchestra in Weimar under the direction of Franz Liszt. Meanwhile, he had become friends with Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Joachim's playing held to a noble ideal without much use for the type of music that mostly shows flashy violin tricks. Joachim had a subtle use of rubato. One unusual aspect of his playing was that he played in just intonation, which cause English critics, in particular, to accuse him of poor intonation. The physicist Helmholtz found that Joachim's intervals were more accurate reflections of scientific truth than any other violinist's. Joachim wrote several orchestral overtures, a large-scale and difficult violin concerto and several other works for violin and orchestra, and a considerable amount of chamber music.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com