The continued appearance of pre-war radio recordings never fails
to excite the collector of historic material. This one was carried
off by the Red Army in 1945 as war booty. Much of this booty
was only returned to Germany in 1988 but as Allan Evans of Arbiter
comments, there are almost certainly more artefacts in Moscow,
or elsewhere, that have yet to be made available.
The pianist in Brahms’s First Piano Concerto is Alfred
Hoehn in a performance given with the distinguished Max Fiedler
in 1936. This is historically important for all sorts of reasons.
Hoehn only made a few recordings: three of Chopin and one Scarlatti-Tausig,
a very meagre discography indeed for the Thuringian pianist
who took first prize at the 1910 Anton Rubinstein Competition
in St Petersburg, where he beat a certain Arthur Rubinstein
into second place. Hoehn had earlier studied with Lazzaro Uzielli
in Frankfurt, as had Cyril Scott (the English composer dedicated
his Piano Sonata No.1 to Hoehn) before going on to Busoni and
d’Albert in Berlin. Both Hoehn and Fiedler knew Fritz
Steinbach, Brahms’s esteemed colleague in Frankfurt. Thus,
whilst one wouldn’t wish to elevate it unreasonably, there
is a strong sense of association, lineage and cultural self-awareness
involved in this milieu.
The performance is a remarkable one in many ways. It enshrines
considerable rhythmic latitude, with elasticity an aesthetic
prerequisite. The first movement has notable breadth as well,
with Fiedler powerfully applying downbeats and slowing rhetorically
for the pianist’s first entry, a moment of real raptness
in this performance. This fascinatingly discursive tapestry,
non-linear and often introspective, is also imbued with strength.
Though it’s certainly not brisk, indeed it’s one
of the slower performances you’ll encounter (in the opening
movement at least) it all sounds structurally comprehensible.
The slow movement is very expressively shaped, indeed limpid
in places. Hoehn was famed for his poetic and quiet playing
and if this is a true reflection, then those critical comments
are quite right. Fortunately the piano is quite forwardly recorded
so one can admire Hoehn’s desynchronous chording, as one
can in the Rondo finale where dynamics are again shaped with
constant variation, from a whisper to a roar. So, indeed, this
is a restoration of real significance.
With the exception of Joachim’s much reissued 1903 recording
of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.1 in G minor, the rest
of the programme consists of previously unissued piano music.
All the pianists are important and were part of Brahms’s
circle. Etelka Freund was coached by Brahms when she was studying
in Vienna. These two Op.76 performances date from 1951 when
she was 72 and preserve her ‘swung’ rhythm and singing
tone. Carl Friedberg also plays the same Intermezzo that
Freund does, but in a very different way, a touch brisker and
more colour-consciously. This 1949 live performance is rather
scuffy. Better recorded is the early Scherzo in E flat
where we can hear a marvellously fluent and exciting private
performance. Brahms once said of the young Ilona Eibenschutz
that ‘She is the pianist I best like to hear playing my
works’. She made a few, very rare and sought after discs
in 1903, the same year as Joachim’s discs, but wasn’t
to be heard again until private recordings were made of her
playing. She recorded the Ballade in B, and three Intermezzi,
to go with those 1903 sides of the Ballade in G minor
and two waltzes. Her playing, half a century on, is inevitably
more laboured, but it shows the Brahms (and Clara Schumann)
lineage surviving well into the second half of the twentieth
century, and is paramount stylistic interest.
This is a most accomplished and historically significant disc.
The notes are excellent and transfers assured.
Track listing and performance details
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15 (1854-58) [48:25]
Alfred Hoehn (piano)/Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Max Fiedler,
rec. October 1936 (concerto)
Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op.76 No.1 (1878) [3:02]: Intermezzo
in A flat, Op.76 No.3 (1878) [1:59]
Etelka Freund (piano) rec. August 1951
Intermezzo in A flat, Op.76 No.3 (1878) [1:44]: Scherzo in E
flat minor, Op.4 (1851) [9:19]
Carl Friedberg (piano) rec. c.1949 and 1951
Ballade in B, Op.10 No.4 (1854) [3:53]: Intermezzo in B flat,
Op.76 No.4 (1878) [1:55]: Intermezzo in B minor, Op.119 No.2
(1892) [3:31]: Intermezzo in C, Op.119 No.3 (1892) [1:17]
Ilona Eibenschutz (piano) rec. c. 1952
Hungarian Dance No.1 in G minor [3:10]
Joseph Joachim (violin) rec. August 1903
Masterwork Index: Brahms
piano concerto 1