P1302. JORGE BOLET: Sonata #31 in A-flat, Op.110 (Beethoven); Transcendental Etudes (Liszt); Le Cygne (Saint-Saëns); Schubert-Liszt), Mendelssohn & Verdi-Liszt). [A magnificent recital recorded in brilliant sound; the Op.110 Beethoven is magisterial!] Transfers by Yves St Laurent. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-756, Live Performance, 11 Oct., 1970, Bloomington, Indiana.
“This is an extraordinary addition to the Jorge Bolet discography. The six-disc Marston set of live performances (‘Ambassador from the Golden Age’ Marston 56003) appeared on two 2015 FANFARE Want Lists, mine and Mark Medwin’s. This new release might just wind up on my 2019 list. Bolet’s career was important but not at the superstar level his playing merits. One reason for this might be that his studio recordings have a certain reticence that is completely lacking in his live performances. Bolet most admired pianists from a bygone era who exhibited extraordinary interpretive freedom and flair, pianists like Sergei Rachmaninoff and Josef Hofmann. While one would not sense this affinity from most of Bolet’s studio recordings, it is clearly evident when one hears his live recordings. At his best Bolet managed to balance an improvisatory freedom that gave the impression of music being made up on the spot with a sense of architecture and structure that prevented him from distorting the music’s shape more than it could take.
The present recital from Indiana University in 1970 captures Bolet at his best and also demonstrates the remarkable scope of his artistic sensibilities. His performance of Beethoven’s Op. 110 (what a work to choose for the opening of a recital!) conveys the excitement of virtuosity integral to the second movement and parts of the finale, while at the same time probing very deeply into the spiritual content of the Adagio, ma non troppo. His singing tone emphasizes the marking Moderato cantabile molto espressivo of the first movement. In fact, cantabile is one of the consistent features of this recital, running through the Liszt etudes and transcriptions and everything else.
Bolet plays with a wide range of color, consistent beauty of tone, and an ability to clarify complex textures without ever sounding fussy. The fugal voices in the Beethoven are perfectly clarified, and later we get a vivid sense of all four singers in the RIGOLETTO Quartet that is the basis of Liszt’s Paraphrase.
Bolet performs the twelve Transcendental Etudes not in the published order but in an order he was presumably more comfortable with. The rearrangment should not be a problem for anyone as there is no real overall structure or shape to the series beyond key signatures, and by ending with #8, ‘Wilde Jagd’, Bolet creates a highly dramatic theatrical conclusion. His ability to balance the theatrically extravagant and the introspective elements of these etudes makes this a very special recording, comparable with the best….
The remainder of the recital, an unusually generous one at 108 minutes, is similarly successful. Godowsky’s transcription of Saint-Saëns’ ‘Swan’ from CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS is played with rippling notes that show no evidence of their technical difficulty. At the same time, Bolet’s lyrical shaping of the melody is what one might expect from a singer of bel canto. The Mendelssohn gives us a similar bel canto-like line in the Andante and then recalls the fairies of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in the Rondo capriccio. The trick in Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s ‘Die Forelle’ is to balance clarity in the melody amidst all of the keyboard trickery with which Liszt surrounded it while not hiding that trickery. Bolet, as you might expect, achieves this as well as I have ever heard.
The monaural sound is natural, with the piano neither too close to nor too far from the microphones. St. Laurent Studio recordings, available from Norbeck, Peters & Ford, provide no program notes but do have complete information about the contents and track listing. Most importantly, the company chooses material with a keen eye to preserving the legacy of important artists. Their service in this regard is to be admired with gratitude.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Jorge Bolet, a Cuban-born virtuoso considered one of the leading contemporary exponents of Romantic pianism, last [played in] New York at Carnegie Hall on 16 April, 1989; his final performance was a solo recital at the West Berlin Philharmonie on June 8, 1989.
Despite his accolades, Mr. Bolet had a peculiar career in that he did not achieve international success until he was in his 60's. From his days as a child prodigy at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, there never was a doubt about his phenomenal talent. His technique ranked with that of any living pianist, he drew a rich sound from the instrument, and he even won a major competition - the Naumburg, in 1937.
Not until the 1970's was he recognized as a great master. Many who had followed his career from the beginning saw a deepening in his musical thought around that time. Whatever the reason, he suddenly started to receive rave reviews; he signed a big recording contract with Decca in England and played a series of engagements that took him all over the world. At one point he was giving some 150 concerts a season. He himself professed to be puzzled about his sudden fame.
One of the factors in his sudden success was a shift in musical values. When Mr. Bolet was young, the musical climate was largely anti-Romantic. Liszt, especially, was regarded as a meretricious, show-off composer. It followed that musicians were trained in an anti-Romantic style, a style in which little metrical or even expressive latitude was allowed. The idea was to play all the notes exactly as written, bring out the architectural design of the music and keep expressive devices to a minimum. Mr. Bolet described this kind of interpretation as bound to ‘a rigid set of absolutes’. Its exponents, he said, ‘have computerized mechanisms, but so many seem to have no idea of what the notes actually mean’. To the new generation, his playing must have seemed anachronistic.
At age 12 he was sent to the Curtis Institute, where he studied with David Saperton, Leopold Godowsky, Moriz Rosenthal and Josef Hofmann. These were remarkable pianists who were exponents of the Romantic school, and Mr. Bolet grew up to be a worthy successor to his great mentors. The two pianists he admired most were Hofmann and Sergei Rachmaninoff. As Mr. Bolet pointed out many times, the true Romantic style was anything but anarchic or self-indulgent. The great Romantic pianists of the past were aristocratic artists who never distorted music, who had tonal beauty, who used expressive devices that consisted largely of delicate fluctuations of tempo. ‘Flexibility within the pulse of the music’ was how he described it.
In the 1970's musicians started looking at the once-derided music of Liszt and other Romantics, and a wave of neo-Romanticism was in the air. Then Mr. Bolet finally came into his own. He was one of about a half-dozen veterans who could convincingly bring Romantic music to life. He had a colossal technique that never was used for its own sake; at all times his playing was subtle, refined, elegant. He could summon great masses of sound when necessary, but like the great Romantic pianists he never pounded. In a day when the prevailing piano sound was percussive, his hands seemed made of velvet, and he drew luminous, tinted sounds from the keyboard in great washes of color. It might also be said that his tall, stately, dignified figure brought to the concert stage an element of glamour that had been missing from the younger generation.
His playing was not admired by purists, with whom he had a continuing battle for years. He pointed out that the greatest composers of the past would give a trusted performer considerable latitude. He stated that music on the printed page meant nothing: it had to be brought to life by a performer, and any decent performer had to work through thought and instinct, ending up reflecting the composer through his own personality. He had no hesitation making changes in some of the music he played, though the changes were so discreet that none but professionals could have noticed them. ‘It is a performer's responsibility’, he said, ‘to do what will best put across the piece he is playing’.
He also tried to pass his style to his students. Mr. Bolet did a great deal of teaching. He was active for some years at Indiana University and then went to Curtis, where he eventually succeeded Rudolf Serkin as the head of the piano department. He felt a moral obligation to teach. ‘I have received knowledge and experience from the great masters’, he once said, ‘and it is now my responsibility to pass it on to the next generation’.
Mr. Bolet recorded a large part of his repertory, both solo and concerto. His series of Decca/London records include major and minor Liszt, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann and Rachmaninoff works, encore pieces and French music, especially Franck and Debussy. He was one of the few pianists to record the Godowsky arrangements of the Chopin Etudes; these Godowsky transcriptions may be the most difficult pieces ever written for solo piano.”
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 Oct., 1990