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Moura Lympany - The HMV recordings 1947-1952 
see end of review for track listing & performer details
rec. 1947-1952, no venues stated.
APR 6011 [79:10 + 79:05]

This 2-CD set of the HMV recordings of Moura Lympany is the latest in a series by APR showcasing the work of the pedagogue Tobias Matthay’s major pupils. Having the reputation as Britain’s most influential piano teacher, Matthay mentored a succession of pianists and, in effect, established an English piano tradition. Names include Harriet Cohen, Myra Hess and Irene Scharrer. Each has been featured by APR in the series, although I have not yet had the opportunity to acquaint myself with these collections. Lympany was the last in a line of major talents to study with Matthay. She did not come to him until 1937, when he was already seventy-nine years old.
She was born in Cornwall in 1916 and was sent to a convent school in Belgium. Returning to Britain, she made her debut at the age of twelve in the Mendelssohn G minor Piano Concerto, a work which remained in her repertoire. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music, later moving to Vienna. In 1937, at the age of twenty-one, she went to study with Matthay. He was a profound influence on her technique and musicianship. After a successful Wigmore Hall recital, she went on to win second prize in the 1938 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium; Emil Gilels won first prize. She then embarked on a distinguished international career. Her repertoire was romantic and Russian-orientated.
My first encounter with Lympany’s recordings was in the sixties whilst still at school. I saved up my pocket money, which was very meagre, and splashed out on a Music for Pleasure LP of her playing the Grieg and Schumann Concertos. I bought it for the Grieg, having never heard the Schumann before. I owe my great love of the Schumann Concerto to this recording which she made with the RPO and Constantin Silvestri. I would have liked very much to have been reacquainted with this performance but regrettably, although an HMV recording, it is not included here. As for the Grieg, it is a work for which I no longer have any enthusiasm.
What immediately struck me listening to this APR collection was the wonderful technique that Lympany commands. To focus on some examples, there is the Transcendental Etude No. 5 ‘Feux follets’, a piece with chromatic runs, and rapid double note passages in the right hand that can strike terror in even the most accomplished pianist. Lympany negotiates the hurdles with nonchalant ease. The same can be said for the Ravel Toccata (Le Tombeau de Couperin), the Prokofiev Toccata and the Liszt selections. The Litolff Scherzo is capricious and sparklingly delicious, and on a par with Curzon’s recording. The Brahms Paganini Variations is a technical tour de force.
In the Granados The Maiden and the Nightingale from Goyescas, her expressive powers are to the fore. It is a reading which has great passion and commitment. The Brahms Intermezzo is notable for its warmth and heartfelt lyricism. The Debussy Clair de Lune is imbued with impressionistic colour. One cannot help but be seduced by the Albeniz-Godowsky Tango and its subtle rubato. I could not imagine a more beguiling performance; not even Kreisler could have done it better. The Shostakovich Three Fantastic Dances are well-characterised.
Mendelssohn’s G minor Piano Concerto was Lympany’s calling-card, remaining in her active repertoire for her entire performing career, ever since her debut performance as a twelve year old. Whilst the performance here exhibits all the Lympany trade marks of dazzling technique and eloquence, it does not quite match the breathtaking and exhilarating passion of the 1964 performance on Ivory Classics (CD-70906) with the RPO and Sargent. This 1964 version is also in better sound. I also listened to a performance she made at the Proms in 1991 with the Royal Scottish Orchestra under Sir Alexander Gibson. Whilst the sound of my tape has deteriorated somewhat, it clearly shows Lympany’s affinity for this work, with the added dimensions of spontaneity and visceral excitement that a live performance affords. The Rondo brilliant in E flat offers a fitting companion piece, being a work very much in the same vein as the Concerto. The Franck and Turina selections are sympathetically accompanied by Walter Susskind and the Philharmonia.
The highlight of this collection is the Schumann Symphonic Etudes, composed in 1834 when the composer was in his early twenties. Lympany takes the listener on a journey. At the outset there is the commanding opening which sets the scene for what is to follow. Each of the variations is well-characterised. There is drama and energy on the one hand, and lyricism and richness of expression on the other, with superb attention to detail. She does not include the five posthumous variations restored by Brahms in 1890. These are a bit of a moveable feast for pianists, being slotted in arbitrarily throughout the variations on a whim by many.
Seth B. Winner’s audio restorations are first rate. So are Bryce Morrison’s insightful booklet notes. This is an impressive tribute to a fine British pianist.
Stephen Greenbank

Track listing & performer details
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Tango in D, op.165 no.2 (arr. Leopold Godowsky) [3:07]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzi (3), op.117: no.2 in B flat minor [4:51]
Variations (28) on a theme of Paganini, op.35: Book 2 [9:37]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, op.66 [4:58]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Suite bergamasque: III Clair de Lune [4:48]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra [15:36]3
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Goyescas: La Maja y el Ruisenor [5:57]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de Pelerinage, 3rd Year, S163: no.4 ‘Les jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este’ [7:54]
Etudes d'execution transcendante (12), S139: no.5 in B flat major 'Feux Follets' [3:56]
Mephisto Waltz no.1, S514 'Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke' [10:56]
Polonaise, S223: no.2 in E major [8:16]
Henry LITOLFF (1818-1891)
Concerto Symphonique no.4 in D minor, op.102: Scherzo 6:56]5
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Concerto no.1 in G minor, op.25 [18:23] 1
Rondo Brilliant, op.29 [8:28]2
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Toccata in D minor, op.11 [4:16]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin: VI Toccata [3:49]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Etudes Symphoniques, op.13 [19:47]
Waldszenen, op.82: no.7 Vogel als Prophet [3:23]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Fantastic Dances (3), op.5 [3:20]
Joaquin TURINA (1882-1949)
Rapsodie Sinfonica [8:24]4
Philharmonia Orchestra Raphael Kubelik 1, Walter Susskind 345
London Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Menges 2