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Rudolf Serkin (piano) - Early and Unpublished Recordings
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata” (1804) [24:23]
Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in E minor, Op. 36a (1898): II. Presto (incomplete) [4:07] III. Andante con moto [13:59]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1841-45) [29:51]
Adolf Busch (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Julius Harrison
rec. 3 November 1936 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London (Beethoven); live recording, 19 January 1940 in the Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Busoni, previously unpublished); live recording, 19 October 1936 in Queen’s Hall, London (Schumann, previously unpublished)

Rudolf Serkin’s first solo disc recording was made in November 1936 in Abbey Road, London. This is the Appassionata sonata, all first takes, and completed in a single session. It was never transferred onto LP because by then Serkin had re-recorded it. In fact, his performance of it is best-known by the later versions, one for US Columbia in 1947 – variously reissued on CD by Sony, Andante and Music & Arts – and even more so by the 1962 LP, which Sony has reissued many times.

In relation to the 1936 recording, Tully Potter refers to the ‘botched transfer’ on CD reissues. This applies to the Philips ‘Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century’ release as to the EMI ‘First Recordings’ disc devoted to Serkin. The ‘botch’ is the omission of the transitional chord between the second and third movements which unaccountably went walkabout in these previous transfers. Here it’s reinstated.

Interpretatively Serkin is on terse, taut form, the music’s direction sinewy and lean. Generating considerable momentum, he vests the music with the kind of electricity he wasn’t to reproduce in subsequent studio recordings.

Busoni’s Violin Sonata No.2 is heard in a live broadcast from the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress in January 1940. It’s never been published until now but unfortunately it’s a torso, missing the entire first movement and part of the second, of which we hear only four minutes. The finale is complete. Busch sounds very slightly unsteady as the music starts but soon his tone, long bow, and characterful slides take the ear. It’s rewarding and of historical significance to hear Busch and Serkin in Busoni, whom they knew and before whom they had played this very sonata – subsequently largely remodelling their interpretation, speeding it up from 48 minutes to 30, after hearing Busoni and Petri playing it in a two-piano arrangement.

Serkin recorded the Schumann Concerto three times in Philadelphia with Eugene Ormandy. The 78rpm version from 1946 was transferred to LP, the 1956 version supplanted that one and then the 1964 stereo trumped them all. The live Queen’s Hall broadcast in this Pristine disc has never before been released and was given with the London Philharmonic, Julius Harrison replacing Hamilton Harty who had been taken ill. Pristine cites a date of 19 October 1936 as indeed does Geoffrey Self in his Harrison biography but the BBC Genome database states a broadcast date of 29 October. Incidentally Potter doesn’t note that Harrison took over Harty’s programme entirely – including Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Taming of the Shrew overture and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Harrison may now be best known as a composer, but he was a significant conductor too and highly regarded by soloists and rank and file alike. Bernard Shore makes some interesting observations about Harrison the conductor in his book The Orchestra Speaks.

Serkin plays adeptly and stylishly, and Harrison accompanies with sympathy. The outstanding Queen’s Hall acoustic is captured once again in live performance and the LPO’s wind players, in particular, distinguish themselves throughout. The sectional balance is excellent and the all-important balance between piano and orchestral is conspicuously well done; a credit to those engineers of the time.

Unusually for a Mark-Obert production there is no Producer’s Note but there is that page from Busch’s biographer, Tully Potter. The rarity value of this disc is high.

Jonathan Woolf



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