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Edith Picht-Axenfeld (piano)
German Radio Broadcast Recordings
rec. 1952-56
MELOCLASSIC MC1043 [79:06 + 78:44]

Edith-Picht-Axenfeld became known for her harpsichord recordings of the Goldberg Variations, the 48, and the English and French Suites. It was not that she abandoned the piano – her Chopin Opp. 10 and 25 Etudes LP proves the fact – more that her Baroque-era recordings received the greater critical scrutiny. She was born in 1914 in Freiburg where she studied, later travelling to Basel to take extended lessons from Rudolf Serkin. Among the pianist she could hear in Germany in 1936, she admired Lamond above even Gieseking, Backhaus, Kempff and Ney and the following year she finished sixth in the Third International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Yakov Zak and Rosa Tamarkina came first and second respectively. Małcużyński was third. Despite having one Jewish grandparent she continued to perform, at least once to Martin Heidegger, and in 1947 she began to teach, as well as to perform in chamber music, piano four-hands – she played with Carl Seemann – and to record. She died in 2001.

This gatefold twofer of her German broadcasts spans the years 1952-56. Her Haydn sonata is cleverly characterised, its opening movement gently stern, the Scherzando rhythmically taut and crisp and its Menuet finale not at all prettified. The two Beethoven sonatas come from a different recital and are the earliest examples of her playing here. They exemplify her desire to be direct and honest as a musician, to show textual fidelity and to serve the composer. Her playing is also animated by an added electricity that surpasses her LP legacy. The Adagio of Op2 No.3, in particular, shows real dignity of expression. Brahms’ Op.76 Klavierstücke (October 1954) are equally impressive with an especially stormy and passionate C sharp minor Capriccio.

She had given a number of all-Chopin recitals in Berlin in the 1930s, notably after the Chopin Competition and proves to be a most sensitive interpreter. The Nocturnes are feelingly shaped and she brings attractive rhythmic emphases to the four Mazurkas. Hers is not an overtly romanticised view of the Etudes Op.10 but she is fluent and articulate, her contrary motion octaves coming off decisively in the E major – though it’s not a yielding performance of this Etude – whilst she is restless and probing in the E flat minor. This is a relatively straightforward but never reserved reading. The final work is Schumann’s Humoreske, Op.20, one of the highpoints of these broadcast performances. She catches the music’s waxing and waning finely and makes a dramatic showing in the Sehr lebhaft section.

In fact, this is a most valuable release, bringing to attention, in well-engineered transfers from the master tapes, a musician who has been largely forgotten but who deserves to be remembered.

Jonathan Woolf

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in C-sharp Minor, Hob XVI:36 [15:28]
rec. 24 April 1956, Frankfurt, Funkhaus am Dornbusch, Hessischer Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 3 in C Major, Op 2, No 3 [26:46]
Piano Sonata No 22 in F Major, Op 54 [11:45]
rec.19 June 1952, Frankfurt, Altes Funkhaus · Hessischer Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
8 Klavierstücke, Op 76 [25:05]
rec.18 October 1954, Frankfurt, Altes Funkhaus, Hessischer Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
2 Nocturnes: D flat major, Op.27 No.2 [5:21]: B major, Op.62 No.1 [6:10]
4 Mazurkas, Op 68 [6:22]
Polonaise in E-flat Minor, Op 26, No 2 [7:16]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Humoreske in B-flat Major, Op 20 [26:30]
rec. 3 August 1953, Frankfurt, Altes Funkhaus, Hessischer Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1856)
12 Études, Op 10 [27:03]
rec. 28 May 1953, Stuttgart, Studio VI, Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording

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