P1311. JORGE BOLET: Bach, Chopin (incl. Préludes, Op.28), Schlözer, Moszkowski, Johann Strauss & Wagner (the latter's Tannhäuser Overture). [Another outstanding recital recorded in brilliant sound; as might be expected, the Tannhäuser Overture is a great tour-de-force, and Bolet's arabesque on the Blue Danube is positively delicious!] Transfers by Yves St Laurent. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-782, Live Performance, 17 Feb., 1974, Bloomington, Indiana.
“Jorge Bolet, a Cuban-born virtuoso considered one of the leading contemporary exponents of Romantic pianism, had a peculiar career in that he did not achieve international success until he was in his 60s. 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. But in the 1940s and ‘50s he had scarcely any engagements. It was, he once said, a period of ‘half-starvation’.
Not until the 1970s 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. ‘Why now?’ he asked Allan Kozinn in an interview in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1982. ‘I've been told by many people that my playing has undergone a transformation in the last few years….I'm not sure this is something I can feel myself’.
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 1970s 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. 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’.
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