P0320. MORIZ ROSENTHAL: The Complete HMV Recordings, 1939-47. (England) 2-Appian APR 7002, recorded 1939-47. Transfers by Bryan Crimp. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 5024709270026
“The prospect of some 20 hitherto unheard recordings by the legendary Moriz Rosenthal, a pianist admired by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Hugo Wolf and Johann Strauss II, held in awe by other pianists (both for his playing and for his caustic wit), and acclaimed by the press and the public, is indeed mouth-watering. As Bryan Crimp details in his discography, in the course of Rosenthal's 11 HMV sessions 80 takes were made of 52 sides, some pieces being returned to over and over again—seven attempts at Chopin's E flat Nocturne, six each at the G major Mazurka, the c sharp minor Valse and the Grande Valse in A flat (Op. 42), 12(!) at his own Papillons. Yet, for one reason or another, only six sides were ever issued in this country, plus a further eight in the USA. The general adulation of the pianist was shared only with reservations by HMV and its brilliant, clear-sighted and long-suffering producer Fred Gaisberg, whose always courteous but business-like efforts at coping with the exigent and 'difficult' Rosenthal's evasions, impatience, vanity and temperamental ways are chronicled in Bryan Crimp's highly illuminating, informative and entertaining little book DEAR MR ROSENTHAL - DEAR MR GAISBERG. There were endless frustrating arguments over the make of piano to be used and over the artist's demands to record in Vienna (which Gaisberg steadfastly opposed).
With all this hassle as a background, and remembering that Rosenthal was already in his seventies, some remarkable results were nevertheless achieved (though not consistently); and it becomes evident that those records which were released did in fact represent the best of the batch. Bryan Crimp's painstaking and devoted transfer from all the surviving masters, plus four sides from the 1934 session dubbed from Rosenthal's own copies, now in the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings, provide valuable and fascinating historical documentation; but it has to be said that, of the previously unpublished material, only about half a dozen items leave one wondering why they were rejected. There is, for example, a gripping sotto voce performance of the F minor Etude from Chopins' Op. 25 an a scintillating 'Black key' Etude from Op. 10 (complete with Rosenthal' celebrated buckshee double glissando at the end), two jaunty readings of the Op. 67 No. 1 Mazurka, a deliciously neat, springy Op. 33 No. 2 Mazurka and a gossamer-textured G major Prelude (both of the these last being object-lessons in not using the pedal); there is a vigorously rhythmic Schubert/Liszt ‘Soirée de Vienne’ with lovely pearly triplets in the ornate repeat of the theme; and the recording of his own ‘Papillons’ makes it clear that the dexterous feathery leggiero to be heard in the piano-roll version was a completely truthful representation of his playing.
It is Rosenthal's delicacy, above all, that continually arouses admiration, even in performances which are otherwise flawed - that and his vein of fantasy, as for instance in the D flat Nocturne (in which the fioriture sparkle and he extends the run of sixths by an extra octave). Sometimes this leads him into what seem like eccentricities (the curiously-placed accents in the c sharp minor Valse, for example) or, very often, into exaggerated rubatos. If it be claimed that his very first teacher had been Chopin's pupil Mikuli, so that he may have imbibed the true Chopin tradition from him, it has to be observed that between March 1935 and May 1936 he had greatly changed his approach to the E flat Nocturne (for the better, in my opinion, synchronizing the hands more and avoiding his previous excessive sentimentality). All of his very first session was marred by splashy and over-pedalled endings - to his ingenious ‘New Vienna Carnival’ (this after wonderfully fleet and light passages), to ‘The maiden's wish’ (notably for some stunning rapid repeated notes) and to the A flat Valse. But set against this rapt intensity of the b minor Prelude, the freshness he brings to many a familiar piece, and the unmistakable air of authority; and despite the shortchomings, all these recordings are of the greatest historical interest for a generation which never heard Rosenthal in the flesh.”
- Lionel Salter, GRAMOPHONE, April, 1987