William Masselos, Vol. III;   Haitink;   Guarneri Quartet   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-295)
Item# P1192
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William Masselos, Vol. III;   Haitink;   Guarneri Quartet   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-295)
P1192. WILLIAM MASSELOS: Piano Fantasy (Copland) [CREATOR Recording], Live Performance, 17 Aug., 1965, Tanglewood; WILLIAM MASSELOS, w.Bernard Haitink Cond. London S.O.: Concerto #2 in g (Saint-Saëns), Live Performance, 21 Oct., 1971, Carnegie Hall; WILLIAM MASSELOS, w.Guarneri Quartet: Piano Quartet in E-flat (Schumann), Live Performance, 19 March, 1971, Carnegie Hall. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-295. [Never previously issued.] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


"This is the third of four volumes of a retrospective series featuring William Masselos. This disc is yet more evidence of his versatility as an artist, something both a blessing and a curse in terms of his career. His advocacy of modern music was unceasing, and his closeness to Aaron Copland was a lifelong artistic partnership. Masselos gave the 1957 premiere of the PIANO FANTASY, which was written as a tribute to William Kapell, and he was associated with the piece (and other music of Copland) throughout his career.

He made a commercial recording of the FANTASY, but there is an extra level of intensity to this 1965 live performance. (It also brought back a wonderful memory to this listener to hear the piece introduced by the Boston Symphony's longtime radio host William Pierce). The range of color that Masselos draws from the piano is well beyond what one normally hears even from great pianists. More impressive is the accuracy of the playing of this fiendishly difficult piece, here in an unedited live performance. But above all what stands out is the pianist's ability to master both the tender and lyrical elements of this piece, playing them with superb warmth, while in no way minimizing or shying away from the most aggressive and brilliantly virtuosic passages either. This is a masterful performance, one I would not be without.

The Schumann Piano Quartet is also a superb performance, with Masselos and the members of the Guarnieri Quartet clearly on the same wavelength. Again, as in the Copland, neither the lyrical nor the dramatic sides of the music are cheated - one cannot use shorthand to describe the performance because it gives equal weight to the inward-looking warmth of the third movement and to the muscle and sinew of the outer movements.

The Saint-Saens has many of the same qualities noted in the earlier performance with Monteux and the New York Philharmonic reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Fanfare. This performance does not quite convey the magic of that earlier one, however. Part of the problem is the recorded sound (whereas the 1959 recording was clear and well balanced, obviously taken from a broadcast, this one sounds like a more distant in-house recording with less clarity). But it is more than that. One doesn't think of Bernard Haitink as a conductor of Saint-Saëns, and there is evidence here as to why. Textures are thick, balances a bit heavy, and although the tempos are virtually identical to the Monteux performance, this reading feels slower because of that weight, and because of a certain stiffness. It is still good to have, and would be more valuable had there not been the earlier performance also available, on YSL T-294."

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

"The PIANO FANTASY was premiered at Juilliard by pianist William Masselos on 27 October, 1957. In an unusual strategy, the FANTASY was the only work on that evening's program; Masselos played it twice, both before and after intermission. Copland had himself played the first performances of most of his other major piano works, but decided not to in the case of the FANTASY because, as he put it in a letter to Benjamin Britten, 'the Fantasy is quite beyond me'.

The work is approximately half an hour in length, with no pauses, and contains considerable technical hurdles for any performer. Copland's directions in the score are detailed and frequent: at different points he uses such descriptions as 'clangorous', 'bell-like', 'brooding', 'hurried and tense', 'crystalline', 'poetic, drifting', 'violent', 'muttering', and 'with mounting excitement'. As Leo Smit, who has recorded all of Copland's piano music, has written, 'Aaron's instructions to the performer in the FANTASY are so personalized that it's as though he were standing behind you looking over your shoulder. I know of no other work that is so filled with the physical presence of a composer'."

- Chris Morrison, allmusic.com

"Masselos was born in 1920 and died in 1992. His main teacher was Carl Friedburg, a pupil of Clara Schumann, and he was thus steeped in the German tradition, but advocacy for new music was a huge part of his artistry and career. Norbeck, Peters, and Ford (www.norpete.com), which sells this label, indicates that the recording came from Masselos' own collection.

Yves St. Laurent is a company dedicated to finding performances that really merit public exposure and preservation, and to doing it with the highest possible audio quality. They accomplish this successfully."

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

"In musical circles, Mr. Masselos was one of the most respected pianists of his time. He played the premiere performances of Charles Ives' Piano Sonata #1 (in 1949, 40 years after it was written) and of Aaron Copland's most ambitious work for keyboard, Piano Fantasy (1957). He commissioned and played the premiere performance of Ben Weber's Piano Concerto (1961). He was a pianist admired for his incisive, individual performances of contemporary and American music.

Mr. Masselos also played, penetratingly, music by composers as divergent as Brahms, Schumann, Griffes and Satie. Because he felt that concertgoing had become ritualized, he experimented with programs of unusual length and scope. In 1969, for example, he offered a three-and-a-half-hour concert at Carnegie Hall [above] that included works by Dane Rudhyar, Ives, Webern, Copland, Ben Weber, Schumann, Satie and Chopin, punctuated with four intermissions. The audience was invited to come and go as it pleased, to enjoy or avoid the musical schools of their choice.

'He always was one of the better American pianists', Harold C. Schonberg wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES after Mr. Masselos' marathon concert. 'Now he has developed into a great one. He plays in a rather unostentatious manner, and that may count against him on the circuit, where pianists put on a big show. But he has everything. To look over some of the virtues: tone, technique, musicianship, style, imagination, sensitivity. That will do for a start'.

William Masselos was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on 11 Aug., 1920. He studied at the Juilliard School, where his principal teacher was Carl Friedberg. He made his debut in 1939.

He was a regular participant in the WNYC American Music Festivals from 1946 through the mid-50's. He made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1952, playing the Brahms Concerto in d minor under the direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos. He worked with many conductors, among them Pierre Monteux and Leonard Bernstein. Although many thought of Mr. Masselos as a new-music specialist, he never eschewed the classics; 'I approach modern music in exactly the same way I approach Brahms or Schumann or Chopin', he said in 1971. 'Of course, new music is always a discovery, a new journey. When I prepare a new score by, say, Copland or Ben Weber or William Mayer, I begin by sight-reading it. It's like taking your first walk in a forest path, and you're very aware and alert, because it's a first, and it's a fresh experience. Then, little by little, things fall into place, and suddenly you know where you are; things become familiar'."

- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 Oct., 1992