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“The Great Russian Pianists – The Original Piano Roll Recordings”
Theodor Leschetitzky: Two Skylarks op.2/1 – Mazurka op. 24
Vasily Sapellnikov: Dance of the Elves op. 3
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite op. 71a: Dance of the Flutes – Song Without Words op. 2/3
Sergei Prokofiev: Prelude in C Major op. 12/7 – Rigaudon op. 12/3 – Scherzo op. 12/10 – The Love for Three Oranges: March & Intermezzo – Tales from the Old Grandmother op. 31
Sergei Rachmaninov: Preludes in a minor op. 32/8, in b minor op. 32/10 & in g minor op. 23/5 – Polka De W.R.
Alexander Glazunov: Gavotte op. 49/3
Alexander Scriabin: Preludes in C Major op. 11/1, in a minor op. 11/2 & in g flat minor op. 11/13
Sergei Liapounov: Elegy on the Death of Liszt op. 11
Moritz Moszkowski: Polonaise in D op. 17 – Malaguena op. 49/1 – Serenade op. 15

Theodor Leschetitzky, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Percy Grainger, Sergei Prokofiev, Vladimir Horowitz, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Liapounov, Shura Cherkassky, Leopold Godowsky, Rudolph Ganz, Ignaz Friedman (piano)
Piano Rolls used in these recordings were made between 1908 and 1933 (Recording © 1992) – 72’18
Dal Segno Records DSPRCD038 – Booklet in English with short biographies

London based Dal Segno Records has been focusing on original piano roll recordings by composers and pianists of the past century. It is always a thrill to be able to listen to some of the greatest composers of the early 1900s perform, especially when they play their own works. This latest addition to Dal Segno’s series of piano roll recordings is a compilation of treasures titled “The Great Russian Pianists – The Original Piano Roll Recordings”. The CD features, amongst others, legendary pianists Theodor Leschetitzky, Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander Scriabin, the young Vladimir Horowitz and the even younger Shura Cherkassky, playing works from the Russian piano literature.

The title “The Great Russian Pianists” is misleading: Theodor Leschetitzky was not Russian but Polish, and so were Ignaz Friedman and Leopold Godowsky. Percy Grainger was Australian and Rudolph Ganz was Swiss. With the exception of Grainger, they could perhaps be classified as representatives of the Russian piano school.

The parsimonious CD booklet is carelessly edited. Barely four pages long, it contains sparse information about some of the composers and pianists. Friedman’s first name is not even mentioned. One can only assume it is the great Polish artist Ignaz Friedman. Moritz Moszkowski’s name is repeatedly misspelled, and some passages read as if somebody ran a foreign language text through ‘google translate’. One would have expected some information as to how these piano rolls were transferred onto a modern concert grand and which piano brand was used.

In 1904, the same year Vladimir Horowitz was born, the piano factory Welte and Sons in Freiburg (Germany) developed an electrically operated reproducing apparatus called “Welte-Mignon”. Music was recorded as perforations on a paper roll. The device was not incorporated in the body of the piano; it was a portable cabinet, placed in front of the keyboard. Plungers, activated by electrical impulses, hit the piano key, depending on the strength of the impulse: a weak impulse resulted in a softly played note, a strong impulse in a fortissimo note. This early recording technique was able to reproduce the original performance in an astonishingly accurate manner. “Duo Art” and “Ampico” were the American brand names for this ingenious invention.

Who are we to judge Prokofiev’s interpretations of his own compositions? Or Scriabin playing Scriabin, or Leschetitzky playing Leschetitzky: these recordings are an invaluable treasure for any music lover and required listening for every student of the piano! It is a delight to hear 23-year-old Horowitz playing on a modern grand piano, without the tinny, scratchy sound of the early shellacs. There is still the murmuring of the paper roll in the background, but this only adds to the authenticity. The recordings of the 12-year-old Shura Cherkassky are testimony to an incredibly gifted prodigy.

Dal Segno’s CD “The Great Russian Pianists – The Original Piano Roll Recordings” is an interesting collection of Welte-Mignon recordings from the dawn of the recording industry. However, none of these recordings are new to the market. All the pianists and pianist/composers featured on this CD obviously deserve the highest rating. However, due to the poor booklet, the CD gets 2 eighth notes on our rating scale.

Wiebke Kuester




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