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

"Bernard Haitink, an unaffected maestro who led Amsterdams Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years and was known for presenting powerful readings of the symphonies of Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven conducting orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, had long associations in Britain with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Festival. He was also a prolific recording artist, putting on disc the complete symphonies of nearly a dozen canonical composers - sometimes twice.

Mr. Haitink let the music emerge from the orchestra, often transcendently, without imposing a heavy-handed interpretation that a star conductor might. His self-effacing nature was noticed early on. He was not one of the glamour boys on the podium, Harold C. Schonberg, the chief classical music critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote in January 1975 after Mr. Haitinks debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducting Bruckners Symphony No. 7, he is a dedicated musician, always on top of the music, getting exactly what he wants from his players. Reviewing his performance of the same symphony with the Philharmonic in 2011, the critic Steve Smith wrote in THE TIMES: Some conductors strive for mysticism in late Bruckner; Mr. Haitink, with his unerring sense of shape, transition and flow, lets the music speak for itself, with results that can approach the supernatural and often did here.

Mr. Haitink began conducting opera in the 1960s and made his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1972, leading Mozarts DIE ENTFHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL. He was music director of the Glyndebourne Opera from 1977 to 1988 and of the Royal Opera from 1987 to 2002. In an opera world where increasingly outlandish stagings were becoming the fashion, Mr. Haitink had a strategy when required to conduct a production he didnt like. One closes ones eyes and lives in the music, he said in a 2009 interview with THE GUARDIAN.

In addition to the Concertgebouw, Mr. Haitink held conductorships of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Dresden Staatskapelle. He also regularly led the Vienna Philharmonic, and in 2006 he was hired as principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

His reputation for being unassuming trailed him throughout his career. In 1967, TIME magazine described him as a short, quiet man who likes to take long bird-watching rambles in the woods, and pointed out that in a profession where flamboyance and arrogance are often the hallmarks of talent, the diffident Haitink is an anomaly.

Mr. Haitinks colleagues lauded his modesty, integrity and musicianship when he was awarded the prestigious GRAMOPHONE Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. Mr. Haitink frequently gave master classes. In an event held at the Royal College of Music in London, he wryly advised a class of young conductors not to criticize the orchestra musicians since any flaws might be as much the mistake of the conductor as of the players. You are there to give them confidence even if things arent going perfectly, he said. Mr. Haitink, with his unerring sense of shape, transition and flow, lets the music speak for itself, a critic once wrote, with results that can approach the supernatural. He conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass., in 2006.

In 2011, in another interview with THE GUARDIAN, Mr. Haitink mused on the strange life of a conductor. I have been doing this job for 50 years, he said. And, you know, it is a profession and it is not a profession. Its very obscure sometimes. What makes a good conductor? What is this thing about charisma? Im still wondering after all these years.

- Vivien Schweitzer, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Oct., 2021