P1221. IRENE SCHARRER: The Complete Electric and Selected Acoustic Recordings, 1925-29, incl. Purcell, Henderson, Paradies, Scarlatti, Bach / Hess, Boyce Craxton, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Sinding and Debussy; The Columbia Electrics, 1929-33, incl. Mendelssohn, Liszt, Verdi / Liszt, Chopin and Litolff; A Selection of HMV Acoustics, 1912-24, incl. Scarlatti, Bach, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Scott and Goodhart. (France) 2-Appian APR 6010, recorded 1912-33. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. - 5024709160105
“Irene Scharrer is probably little more than a name for some, and for most she won’t even be that. For those who collect recordings on 78, her musicianship and brilliance will need no puffing from me. If she’s remembered from her recordings it’s really only the one, and that was ironically the last she made, Litolff’s Scherzo from the Concerto symphonique with Henry Wood accompanying. It was a massive seller, set down in 1933. In the booklet notes Stephen Siek speculates that she abandoned her career soon after this, but she did still play on, as he mentions, though her career did, it’s true, trail off. She gave her last concert with her old friend Myra Hess in 1958. Hess was another Tobias Matthay student whose recordings are upcoming in this series, and it’s often been suggested that Scharrer and Hess were cousins, but this isn’t so; just friends. I wonder, regarding the apparent abandonment of Scharrer’s career, whether she was one of many distinguished British artists culled or curtailed by EMI around the time of her last recording, especially those - like Scharrer - who were recording for Columbia, subsumed along with HMV into EMI but which had less clout internationally. If so, this would have significant bearing on her apparent semi-invisibility in British musical life after the mid 1930s.
She was simply a marvellous musician. Thinking of some other celebrated British pianists of that time, she was more at ease in the studio than Hess, more vivacious and much more musicianly than Harriet Cohen. less sober-suited than (the excellent) Evlyn Howard-Jones, more mercurial than Harold Samuel, and more dramatic than William Murdoch.
We have in this 2 CD set her complete electric recordings and a selection of her HMV acoustics. Yes, completists will be disappointed, even though the acoustics not included were all re-made electrically some years later. Thus all her recorded sides are here, one way or another. We progress from the HMV electrics to the Columbias and finish with those selective 1912-24 HMV acoustics. It’s difficult to know where to start, so as not to over-burden the reader with a litany of praise.
The first thing to say is that she sounds unusually self-possessed in the studio and even when the ‘take’ numbers of her published sides are quite high, one doesn’t feel at all that this was down to nerves or digital sloppiness; maybe a desire for pinpoint accuracy, which is perfectly reasonable. Another thing is her sheer vivacity and verve….She recorded more of Chopin than of any other composer and these sequences alone alert one to the distinction of her playing. Maybe the ubiquity of some of her later electrics has led to a critical blind spot about her, or maybe she was for too long seen as a footnote in Myra Hess’ life. Whatever the reason, her stature will certainly need to be re-evaluated here and in the recordings of other composers’ work. The Fantaisie-Impromptu reveals another quality: the quality of a seeming spontaneity. Galvanised by freshness of tempi, richness of chording, canny rubati and a control of dynamics, all these things elevate her playing to a remarkable degree. Many of her Chopin recordings were made in 1933 and are deliciously characterised, the Etudes in particular being revealing documents. She recorded nine of the twenty-four and not one is less than impressive.
With that fine essay booklet and Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers, no expense has been spared to ensure the listener has been provided with excellent documentary material and first-class transfers. Let us hope that this set occasions a critical re-evaluation of Irene Scharrer, one of Britain’s great pianists.”
- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWebInternational, 13 Feb., 2013