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Poldi Mildner (piano)
Piano Recitals in Germany
rec. 1955-1959
MELOCLASSIC MC1055 [79:37]

This is the second volume Meloclassic have issued featuring the Austrian pianist Poldi Mildner. The previous release unfortunately passed me by. Nevertheless, the rarity of her commercial recordings makes these radio airings all the more welcome.

Who was she, many may ask? She was born in Vienna in 1913. Her first teacher was her aunt, with whom she gained rapid progress. She made an early decision to dedicate her life to music, despite some initial opposition from her father. In 1926 she enrolled at the Vienna Conservatory, a student of Hedwig Kanner-Rosenthal, wife of Liszt pupil Moritz Rosenthal. A year later came her Viennese debut performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. This was followed by many concerts throughout Europe. During this time she had some mentoring from Artur Schnabel. When the Nazi’s came to power the family moved to New York, and in 1942 they progressed on to Buenos Aires.

Mildner was one of those artists who struggled to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. The result was that engagements eventually dried up, but she did record regularly for German radio. In 1953 she performed at London’s Wigmore Hall, and in 1977 undertook her last tour of the States. Her latter years were spent teaching. She died in Buenos Aires in 2007 at the grand old age of 93.

Two of the three broadcasts were recorded on consecutive days in December 1955, with the other aired four years later. The earliest from Bremen is devoted to a single composer, Claude Debussy, and his first book of Images. Poldi invests the cycle with poetry and atmosphere. Whilst her pedaling is delicately applied to avoid any smudging of harmonies, she doesn’t command the wide variety of tonal or instrumental colour as, say, Michelangeli or Gieseking. Reflets dans l’eau has clarity of articulation, suppleness and fluidity. Hommage à Rameau harks back to Rameau's 1737 Castor and Pollux. Here, it has nobility and poise, with Mouvement benefitting from swirling energy and verve.

A day later in Hamburg Mildner made another broadcast. She opens her recital with two Chopin waltzes. Op 70, No 3 in D-flat is, to my mind, one of his finest. Mildner contours the beautiful low melody, which the composer confided was inspired by his unrequited love for the young singer, Konstancja Gładkowska, to perfection. She follows it with what surely must be the most difficult of the waltzes to play, Op 42 in A-flat. The melody in duple time is accompanied by a 3/4 left hand accompaniment. That challenge over, the coda is mesmerizing, and the pianist surfs it with technical ease. The Chopin pieces are followed by Liszt’s Rhapsody Espagnole in an arrangement by Moritz Rosenthal, where stunning virtuosity is fused with the flavour of Iberia. It’s followed by Carnaval de Vienne, a Johann Strauss confection by Rosenthal. In Milner’s hands it’s delicious and sumptuous. The Smetana Polkas are not that well-known, but they’re attractive pieces and are here delivered with freshness and frisson. From the Scriabin selection, the popular Étude in D-sharp minor, Op 8 No 12 can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of Horowitz’s renderings in terms of visceral excitement and pizzazz.

Three composers are presented in the 1959 recital, again from Hamburg. Liszt’s Tarantella di bravura is a true barnstormer. It calls for extreme technical command, which it certainly receives here. I can’t say I’m enamoured of its empty virtuosity. Franck’s Prélude, Chorale et Fugue has nobility, and is imbued with spiritual depth. Poulenc’s Suite Napoli is sunlit and bright. The Nocturne has a luminous glow, whilst the Caprice Italien is playful and capricious and ends with all guns blazing.

These well-preserved aural documents will be a treat for pianophiles, especially those who haven’t come across this pianist before. She definitely worth hearing.

Stephen Greenbank

CHOPIN: Waltz in D-flat Major, Op 70, No 3 [2:57]
CHOPIN: Waltz in A-flat Major, Op 42 [3:34]
LISZT: Rhapsodie espagnole, HS 254 (Arr. by M. Rosenthal) [10:08]
ROSENTHAL: Carnaval de Vienne [5:59]
SMETANA: Polka No 2 in A Minor (from Czech Dances, Book 1) [1:55]
SMETANA: Polka No 3 in F Major (from Czech Dances, Book 1) [2:14]
SCRIABIN: Étude in D-flat Major, Op 8, No 10 [1:47]
SCRIABIN: Étude in D-sharp Minor, Op 8, No 12 [2:17]
Recorded · 09 December 1955 · Hamburg · Studio · NDR · Radio Studio Recording

LISZT: Tarantella di bravura, HS 386 [8:18]
FRANCK: Prélude, Choral et Fugue, FWV 21 [15:32]
POULENC: Suite Napoli, FP 40 [9:47]
Recorded · 19 November 1959 · Hamburg · Studio · NDR · Radio Studio Recording

DEBUSSY: Images I, L 110 [12:59]
Recorded · 08 December 1955 · Bremen · Studio J · RB · Radio Studio Recording

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