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Egon Petri (piano): The complete Columbia and Electrola solo and concerto recordings 1929-1951
APR 7701 [7 CDs: 9:01:00]

Over twenty years ago APR released three two-disc sets devoted to the art of Egon Petri which explored his commercial recorded legacy between 1929 and 1942. Those original transfers were made by Bryan Crimp, whilst others for this edition have been undertaken by Seth Winner, and yet more by Mark Obert-Thorn, who was responsible for re-mastering some of those earlier transfers. All these details will be of interest to those who eagerly snapped up those sets and are wondering if there’s anything new here for them. At the outset I should answer in the affirmative as the focus has shifted forward (1929 to 1951) and thus now includes American Columbia recordings, of which more below.

The Dutch pianist Egon Petri (1881-1962) was a pupil successively of Carreño and Busoni and his largely reticent platform manner did little to hide a magnificent technique. The Electrolas made in Berlin between 1929 and 1930, the English Columbias of 1935-38 and the American Columbias of 1939-51 all reveal inspiring facets of both his mechanism and his musicianship. On a disc-by-disc basis one hears his strengths and his occasional reportorial weaknesses in a way that is only possible when an artist’s entire discography is presented in this fashion. As collectors will know these commercial statements have been augmented by live concert and broadcast material. Note also that this box contains the complete solo and concerto recordings so if you want to hear, for example, one of the greatest of all recordings of Brahms’ Op.108 sonata, with Petri and Szigeti, you will have to look elsewhere.

The first disc introduces Petri espousing Chopin, Liszt and hyphenated Liszt. There’s no chance of anyone dancing to the demonic speed he takes for Chopin’s Waltz in A flat major, a tempo miscalculation that marks an index of his uncertainty with Chopin. His Liszt Paganini Etude No.5, in the then very rarely encountered Busoni edition, is another matter altogether and the depth of tone he generates in the Berlin studio on 17 September 1929 is altogether remarkable – try Gnomenreigen as well. His English Columbias started in 1935. His Gluck/Sgambati Mélodie is a favourite of mine, and I judge all-comers against it in suitably gladiatorial fashion. Of more significance this first disc also includes three of the Beethoven sonatas. His powerful unforced tone can be savoured in Opp. 78, 90 and, especially, 111 which, when heard in the light of his clarity and transparency, offers the listener a clear-sighted, architecturally wise approach. It’s playing devoid of show and flim-flam. The Moonlight sonata, which starts the second disc, runs fluidly and fluently – the opening movement sits at a great remove from Solomon’s famous way with it. The rest of this disc is Lisztian, and he was clearly at pains to record the Schubert-Liszt pieces in particular, picking up on this particular element of his earlier recording sessions in Berlin. Even in a middling piece like the Fantasia on Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens S122, Petri triumphs. It helps having the luxury accompaniment of Beecham’s LPO, directed by Leslie Heward.

On the same day they recorded a rather more substantial piece of meat in the shape of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.2, artfully conceived and hugely accomplished technically. The previous year Petri had recorded Tchaikovsky’s Concerto but by common consent this is not valued too highly. It’s rather dogged and literal-minded, as if Petri were searching for a stylistic key that constantly eluded him. Walter Goehr, usually a good accompanist, doesn’t seem to inspire his soloist very much. It falls to the last piece on the disc, Brahms’ Handel Variations and Fugue Op.24, to restore equilibrium. Petri had met Brahms and he invariably sounds right at this period of his life in this repertoire – the weight, colour, texture, phrasing. Even better is his acclaimed Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op.35 which has been excelled by very few pianists in the eighty years since it was recorded in London. The remainder of disc four is especially important as it is devoted to Busoni. Each of these eight pieces reflects total immersion in Busoni’s aesthetic, and stands as a mile-post on the road of Busoni playing on disc in the twentieth-century. This disc also takes in the first of the recordings Petri made in America – the powerfully conceived and executed Liszt/Busoni Rhapsodie Espagnole with the Minneapolis Symphony conducted by Mitropoulos. The Bach-Busoni Chaconne starts disc five and despite the sound compression in the studio, the playing triumphantly validates the session. The four Chorale Preludes (Bach-Busoni) have a noble straight-forwardness about them and the 1951 Hammerklavier adds materially to his sonata discography. This 1951 recording naturally never appeared on the earlier APR boxes, so its appearance here is more than valuable.

There’s more Schubert-Liszt hyphenation in disc six, and duplication of earlier recordings. The Beethoven-Liszt Adelaïde is taken from rather a noisy copy. The Chopin Preludes Op.28 have always excited technical admiration and expressive denigration. At any event the interpretative stance is curiously non-committal and whatever the reason – they were recorded in June 1942 – his playing here somewhat harkens back to his very first commercial recording, that Chopin Waltz.

The last disc is especially valuable. The Franck Prélude, choral and fugue is superb and then there is more Brahms, where one feels an admiration not wholly unmixed. The Rhapsodies Op.79 are strongly argued whilst the Ballades, Op.10 – recorded in June 1945 - never saw the light of day, for whatever reason, and are making their very first appearance here. These are invaluable additions to the corpus of Petri’s recordings. The Six Pieces, Op.118 point to a cool customer – light, brisk, sometimes almost brusque. Nevertheless, this kind of playing may hint at previous performing practice. The Intermezzo in A major is taken at an especially fast tempo.

The documentation, including biographical details and analysis of the recordings, is conspicuously well done, and the audio restoration is excellent. I think one can happily supplant those older boxes for this new one in its slimmer box, and its expanded compass.

Jonathan Woolf

Full track-listing

CD 1
Fryderyk CHOPIN
Waltz in A flat major Op 42 [3:10] 
Paganini Etude No.5 in E major S141/5 (Busoni edition) [3:08]
Gnomenreigen, S145 [2:44]
Richard WAGNER-Franz LISZT
The Flying Dutchman: Spinning Chorus, S440 [5:09]
Die Forelle, second version, S564 [3:05]
Auf dem Wasser zu singen, S558/2 [3:25]
Liebesbotschaft, S560/10 [2:51]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Minuet, arr. Egon Petri after BWV841-43 [3:49]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK
Melodie from Orphée et Eurydice arr. Sgambati [3:10]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata No.24 in F sharp minor, Op.78 [9:15]
Piano Sonata No.27 in E minor, Op.90 [12:40]
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111 [23:56]

CD 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata No.14 in C sharp minor Moonlight Op.27 No.2 [11:58]
Andantino and Variations in B minor, from D823 [7:33]
Der Lindenbaum, S561/7 [4:27]
Gretchen am Spinnrade, S558/8 [3:55]
Soirée de Vienne No.6 in A, S427/6 [6:13]
Giuseppe VERDI-Franz LISZT
Rigoletto Paraphrase, S434 [6:09]
Charles GOUNOD-Franz LISZT
Valse d’ópera Faust, S407 with Busoni cadenza [8:48]
Trois Etudes de concert: Un sospiro, S144 [4:30]
Ricordanza: Douze Etudes d’execution transcendante No.9, S139 [8:22]
Mazeppa: Douze Etudes d’execution transcendante No.4, S139 [6:05]
Fantasia on Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens, S122
LPO/Leslie Heward

CD 3
Piano Concerto No.2 in A major S125 [20:28]
LPO/Leslie Heward
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op.23 [32:31]
Johannes BRAHMS
Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, Op.24 [24:03]

CD 4
Johannes BRAHMS
Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op.35 [18:27]
Ferruccio BUSONI
Fantasia after J.S. Bach BV253 [8:51]
Serenade [1:40]
Giga, bolero e variazione; No.3 of An die Jugend BV254 [3:29]
Sonatina No.3 ad usum infantis BV268 [6:44]
Sonatina No.6 super Carmen BV284 [6:35]
Indianisches Tagebuch 1 BV267 [8:48]
Albumblatt No.3 In der Art eines Choralvorspiels BV289/3 [4:40]
Elegie No.2 All’ Italia! BV249/2 [4:53]
Franz LISZT-Ferruccio BUSONI
Rhapsodie Espagnole [14:11]
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos

CD 5
Johann Sebastian BACH- Ferrucio BUSONI
Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV1004 [12:06]
Chorale Prelude: Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV639 [2:30]
Chorale Prelude: In dir ist Freude BWV615 [2:07]
Chorale Prelude: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV645 [2:42]
Chorale Prelude: Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein BWV734a [1:57]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata No.6 in F major, Op.10 No.2 [15:26]
Piano Sonata No.29 in B flat major Hammerklavier, Op.106 [39:52]

CD 6
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN-Franz LISZT
Adelaïde, (Op.46) S466 [8:31]
Die Forelle second vewrsion S564 [3:19]
Auf dem Wasser zu singen, S558/2 [3:47]
Gretchen am Spinnrade, S558/8 [4:01]
Der Lindenbaum, S561/7 [4:20]
Der Erlkönig S558/4 [4:38]
Liebesbotschaft, S560/10 [2:50]
Andantino and Variations in B minor, from D823 [7:48]
Fryderyk CHOPIN
Preludes, Op.28

CD 7
Fryderyk CHOPIN
Polonaise in A flat major, Op.53 [6:24]
Prélude, choral et fugue [15:43]
Johannes BRAHMS
Rhapsody in B minor, Op.79 No.1 [7:55]
Rhapsody in G minor, Op.79 No.2 [4:14]
Rhapsody in E flat major, Op.119 No.4 [4:38]
Ballades, Op.10: No.1 in D minor [3:21]; No.2 in D major [4:48]; No.3 in B minor [3:41]; No.4 in B major [4:51]
Six Pieces, Op.118 [19:37]



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