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Andor Foldes (piano)
Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings
rec. 1951-1963
ELOQUENCE 4841256 [19 CDs: 1279 mins]

Eloquence are to be lauded for their championing of the Hungarian pianist Andor Foldes. Several releases have emerged over recent years, and I had the good fortune to review a 2 CD set featuring Mozart Piano Concertos and Beethoven's Choral Fantasia in 2019. The label has collated their previous issues, adding some first timers to CD, with the result that we now have the most comprehensive collection, constituting a worthy tribute to a great artist, musician and pianist. He never achieved the acclaim and high profile of some of his colleagues and maybe this was due in part to his self-effacing style. Hopefully, Eloquence’s sterling endeavours will redress the balance.

He began life as Andor Földes, born in Budapest, Hungary in 1913, but later took American citizenship and removed the umlaut from his surname. His first steps at the piano were under the tutelage of his mother, but in 1922 he enrolled at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music where he studied with Ernő Dohnányi and Béla Bartók. In 1940 he made his American debut in a radio recital, followed a year later by a recital debut at New York Town Hall. In 1947 he performed Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto under Leon Barzin at Carnegie Hall and followed this up, a year later, with a recording of the work for Deutsche Grammophon, which garnered much critical acclaim, including the Grand Prix du Disque. He met his wife, a Hungarian journalist, in New York and together they adopted U.S. citizenship. The lure of more concert engagements was a deciding factor in the couple moving to Switzerland in 1961. Foldes remained there for the rest of his life. He tragically died at his home in Herrliberg, Switzerland, on February 9, 1992, after falling down a flight of stairs.

The set includes five Mozart piano concertos, including the Concerto for Two Pianos, KV 365 with Carl Seemann playing piano primo. Of the solo concertos, it’s significant that we have a recording of K450 in B flat, as this was the work the pianist performed at his public debut with the Budapest Philharmonic under István Kerner, aged only eight. Here he is partnered by Leopold Ludwig at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonc. It’s a stereo recording from 1963, and is in better sound than K365, 453 and 467 where, in each case, the orchestra is slightly recessed. The slow movements are particularly fine, where Foldes basks in the overflowing lyricism. The highlights are No. 21 in C major, K467 and the C major Concerto, KV 503. It’s here where rhythmic freedom, refined musicianship and imaginative insights make potent impact.

There are two Beethoven concertos, Nos. 1 and 5. In both cases the conductor is Ferdinand Leitner, but the orchestras differ. The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra features in No. 1, the Berlin Philharmonic in No. 5. The First Concerto brims over with youthful ardour and rhythms are tight and crisp throughout. The slow movement has a captivating inward quality and the finale romps along with infectious glee. The Emperor is in warmer sound, with more spacial depth. After a noble and majestic opening movement, the slow movement has a seductive allure. When we come to the finale we can just sit back and savour the movement’s joy and vitality. Both recordings are in stereo. The Choral Fantasy was recorded in mono in April 1955. It’s not a work I’m been particularly fond of and it doesn’t rank as one of the composer’s finest in my view. It’s a patchwork of solo piano, orchestra and chorus with a cadenza, several variations and a theme that sounds like the ‘Ode to Joy’ from his Ninth Symphony. Having said that, this particular performance can hold its head up high. The piano is ideally profiled in the mix and the orchestral and choral contributions can’t be faulted. Fritz Lehmann directs a nicely paced account which sounds fresh and uplifting. The choir are well-rehearsed and sing with clarity of diction and flawless ensemble.

The Beethoven piano sonatas were confined to the twilight period of Foldes' DG association, though he had recorded three sonatas, Opuses 13, 78 and 79 for the Tono label in 1950. In the end he only completed 19 out of 32, 3 of which were never released due to the tapes being lost. This was due to an abrupt exit from DG in 1963, the circumstances of which I've not been able to ascertain. Despite the familiarity of the Pathétique Sonata, this performance sounds fresh and direct. The Grave is dark and dramatic, and leads into an Allegro of energy and gusto. The slow movement is beguiling and composed, with the Rondo high-spirited. The slow movement of the Tempest stands out for its intensity and introspection. The Waldstein is astutely paced, and all sits comfortably – tempo, phrasing and dynamics. A feel for the structure of the work is another compelling factor. The Prestissimo third movement showcases some faultless finger-work. Foldes shows good judgment in the pacing of the opening movement of the Appassionata , allowing the drama to gradually emerge from the darkness. There's a wonderful control of dynamics. The brilliance of attack and incisiveness in the finale is breathtaking. Les Adieux is perfectly aligned to the narrative. The farewell of the opener is followed by a sense of loss and absence, with the final movement announcing a joyous return. The first movement of Op. 101 opens out tenderly. The Vivace all marcia is brisk and rhythmically vital and leads into an Adagio marked by serenity and warmth. The fugal narrative of the finale is teased out with precision and underpinned by energy and drive.

CD 15 is devoted to Brahms, and Foldes opts for three sets of variations. I personally regret the absence of any late piano works, as I feel less drawn to the variation form. Yet, if it’s fiery virtuosity you want, then look no further than the two books of Paganini Variations. Far from sounding mechanical, each variation is lyrically fashioned and embellished with colour.

Foldes was a distinguished Schumann player, tapping into the poetic elements of these alluring scores. We have two CDs devoted to the composer (CDs 2 and 16). All are in mono. The former contains the early Mercury recordings. The Abegg Variations showcases some sparkling finger dexterity, and the work as a whole gleams with sheer exuberance. The Toccata in C major dazzles with unbounded energy. Two years later in 1953 the pianist set down compelling readings of Carnaval and the C major Fantasie. In Carnaval, the mood of each piece is captured and the performance sits in such distinguished company as those of Michelangeli, Rubinstein and Uchida.

The two Liszt Concerti, recorded in late February 1953, benefit from the responsive acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin. Leopold Ludwig directs the Berlin Philharmonic. The First Concerto has some soothing poetic moments in the first two movements, whilst the finale is rhythmically energetic and exciting. In the Second Concerto there’s a tangible chemistry between pianist and orchestral forces and the result is a magical reading with some radiant contributions from the solo cello. Foldes delivers a bold passionately intense traversal of the B minor Sonata. Moments of tension contrast dramatically with more expressive sections, and fugal passages are well delineated. Disappointing though is Au lac de Wallenstadt from Années de pčlerinage, Premičre année: Suisse, which lacks grace, poetry and charm, with the waters sounding choppy and rough.

The pianist did much to promote the piano music of his fellow countrymen Zoltan Kodály and Béla Bartók. The latter he met in 1929 as a student, and from then on Bartók's music held a central position in his repertory. He gave the New York premiere of the Second Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall in 1947, recording it in June 1949. This traversal of the fiendishly difficult concerto is one of the finest on record on account of its dazzle and panache, and is the earliest recording to be included in the set. Foldes recorded a substantial amount of the solo piano music between 1954 and 1955. There are three CDs devoted to it in this collection. I find his sound more percussive and less colourful than that of György Sándor, whose Bartok recordings have just been reissued by Sony. Foldes does produce clarity of articulation and a feel for the music’s lyrical qualities. His percussive sound renders satisfying results in the Out of Doors suite. In With Drums and Pipes you hear the drums beating, and I particularly like his evocation of wind and insects in The Night’s Music. Foldes exercises restraint and good taste in the Allegro barbaro, a piece all too often pummeled and thrashed. Here there’s a fine sense of rhythmic pulse and containment. He imparts sufficient wit and badinage to his rendition of the Three Burlesques. The set includes a disc devoted to Kodály. Early on, Foldes fell under the spell of the Háry János Suite and fashioned his own intricate piano transcription, which he performed throughout his career. He gives us three excerpts here. The twelve Children’s Dances are carried off with supple rhythmic flair.

There's an irresistible and persuasive account of the Copland Piano Sonata, every bit as fine as Leon Fleisher's. The spiky and angular elements form striking contrasts with the bewitching melodic moments. Set down in the Salle Pleyel in October 1950 is a marvelous performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Orchestre Lamoureux under the baton of Jean Martinon. There's ample swagger and fire, with Scriabin-like mysticism in the central slow section.

This magnificent collection of beautifully restored recordings will add considerably to the significant legacy of the artist. It's a set that will grace the shelves of lovers of the art of fine pianism. I must single out for special praise Stephen Siek's substantial booklet contribution, in English only. It divides up into a biographical portrait of the artist, followed by an in-depth discussion of the recordings in chronological sequence. Scattered throughout are some fascinating photos. It will be high on the list of my Recordings of the Year.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1
1–3 Piano Concerto No. 1 in D flat major, Op. 10
Orchestre Lamoureux
Jean Martinon
4–7 Tales of the Old Grandmother, Op. 31
8–11 Four Pieces, Op. 32
BÉLA BARTÓK (1881–1945)
12–14 Piano Sonata, Sz.80 (BB 88)
15–17 Piano Concerto No. 2, Sz.95 (BB 101)
Orchestre Lamoureux
Eugčne Bigot

CD 2
1–11 Impromptus on a Theme by Clara Wieck, Op. 5
12–17 Abegg Variations, Op. 1
18–30 Papillons, Op. 2
31 Toccata in C major, Op. 7
EDVARD GRIEG (1843–1907)
32–47 Norwegian Peasant Dances (‘Slĺtter’), Op. 72

CD 3
BÉLA BARTÓK (1881–1945)
1–17 For Children, Sz.42 (BB 53): Books I & II (excerpts)
18–20 Sonatina, Sz.55 (BB 69)
21–26 Mikrokosmos, Sz.107 (BB 105): Book IV (excerpts)
27–33 Mikrokosmos, Sz.107 (BB 105): Book V (excerpts)
34–44 Mikrokosmos, Sz.107 (BB 105): Book VI (excerpts)
45–50 For Children, Sz.42 (BB 53): Book III (excerpts)
51–54 For Children, Sz.42 (BB 53): Book IV (excerpts)
55–56 Two Elegies, Sz.41 (BB 49)

CD 4
BÉLA BARTÓK (1881–1945)
1–6 Six Romanian Folk Dances, Sz.56 (BB 68)
7 Fantasy II (No. 3 of Four Piano Pieces, Sz.22, BB 27)
8–14 Seven Sketches, Sz.44 (BB 54)
15 Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz.74 (BB 83)
16 Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz.71 (BB 79)
17–19 Sonata for Piano, Sz.80 (BB 88)
20–22 Three Rondos on Hungarian Folk Tunes, Sz.84 (BB 92)
23–24 Romanian Christmas Carols, Sz.57 (BB 67)

CD 5
BÉLA BARTÓK (1881–1945)
1–4 Suite, Sz.62 (BB 70) 5–9 Out of Doors, Sz.81 (BB 89)
10–15 Nine Little Piano Pieces, Sz.82 (BB 90)
16–26 Ten Easy Piano Pieces, Sz.39 (BB 51)
27–29 Three Burlesques, Sz.47 (BB 55)
30 Allegro barbaro, Sz.49 (BB 63)

CD 6
ZOLTÁN KODÁLY (1882–1967)
1–3 Háry János: Suite (excerpts, arr. Foldes)
4 Children’s Dances
5 Dances of Marosszék
6–10 Seven Piano Pieces, Op. 11 (excerpts)

CD 7
SAMUEL BARBER (1910–1981)
1–4 Excursions, Op. 20AARON COPLAND (1900–1990)
5–7 Piano Sonata (1939–41)
8–10 Piano Sonata (1924)
11 Circus Polka for a Young Elephant
VIRGIL THOMSON (1896–1989)
12 Ragtime Bass in C sharp major
ISAAC ALBÉNIZ (1860–1909)
13 Tango, Op. 165 No. 2

CD 8
1–3 Concerto No. 10 in E flat major for Two Pianos and Orchestra, KV 365
Carl Seemann, piano I
Andor Foldes, piano II
Berliner Philharmoniker
Fritz Lehmann
4–6 Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat major, KV 450
Berliner Philharmoniker
Leopold Ludwig
7–9 Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, KV 467
Berliner Philharmoniker
Paul Schmitz

CD 9
1–3 Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, KV 453
Berliner Philharmoniker
Fritz Lehmann
4–6 Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, KV 503
Berliner Philharmoniker
Leopold Ludwig
7 Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 80
RIAS Kammerchor
Berliner Motettenchor
Berliner Philharmoniker
Fritz Lehmann

CD 10
1–3 Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
4–6 Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 ‘Emperor’
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra (No. 1)
Berliner Philharmoniker (No. 5)
Ferdinand Leitner

CD 11
1–3 Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 ‘Pathétique’
4–7 Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28 ‘Pastorale’
8–10 Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 ‘Tempest’
11–13 Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ‘Waldstein’

CD 12
1–3 Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’
4–6 Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a ‘Les adieux’
7–10 Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101
11–13 Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109

CD 13
1–4 Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7
5–7 Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14 No. 1
8–9 Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49 No. 1
10–12 Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110

CD 14
1–2 Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78 ‘Ŕ Thérčse’
3–5 Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major, Op. 79
6 Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59 ‘Für Elise’
7–12 Six Bagatelles, Op. 126 13 Ecossaise in E flat major, WoO 86
14 Andante favori in F major, WoO 57
15 32 Variations in C minor on an original theme, WoO 80
16–17 Two Rondos, Op. 51

CD 15
1–12 Variations on an Original Theme in D major, Op. 21 No. 1
13–29 Variations on a theme by Schumann in F sharp minor, Op. 9
Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op. 35
30–44 Book I
45–59 Book II

CD 16
1–21 Carnaval, Op. 9 22–24 Fantasie in C major, Op. 17

CD 17
FRANZ LISZT (1811–1886)
1–3 Piano Sonata in B minor, S.178
Années de pčlerinage – Deuxičme année: Italie, S.161
4 No. 6: Sonetto 123 del Petrarca
Années de pčlerinage: Premičre année: Suisse, S. 160
5 No. 2: Au lac de Wallenstadt
Soirées de Vienne, S.427
6 No. 4: Andantino a capriccio
7 No. 7: Allegro spiritoso
8 Valse oubliée No. 1, S.215

CD 18
FRANZ LISZT (1811–1886)
1–3 Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, S.124
4–9 Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S.125
10–12 Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
Berliner Philharmoniker
Leopold Ludwig

CD 19
1–2 Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903
3–5 Piano Sonata No. 6 in F major, Op. 10 No. 2
Sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39 (excerpts)
6 No. 1 in B major (Tempo giusto)
7 No. 2 in E major
8 No. 3 in G sharp minor
9 No. 15 in A flat major
MANUEL DE FALLA (1876–1946)
10 Ritual Fire Dance (from El amor brujo, arr. Falla)
11 Nocturne No. 4 in C minor
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
12 Prélude, Book I No. 8: La fille aux cheveux de lin
13 Mazurka in E minor, Op. 41 No. 1
14 Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1
FRANZ LISZT (1811–1886)
15 Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S.514

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