Franz Schubert (1797-1828):
Four Impromptus, Op. 142 (D. 935)
Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 94 (D. 780)
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849):
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943):
Franz Liszt (1811-1886):
Piano: Ethel Leginska
Producer: Michael Rolland Davis
Engineer: Ed Thompson
(ADD) Originally Recorded 1926-1928
Remastered using 24-Bit State-of-the-Art Technology - HDCD Encoded
Ethel Leginska (1886-1970) was an extraordinary musical personality. She was a pianist of great distinction (a student of the legendary Leschetizky), dubbed by the New York Herald Tribune "The Paderewski of women pianists," a pioneering conductor who broke down gender barriers in concert halls around the world (she was the first woman to conduct opera in America and the first woman to conduct at the Hollywood Bowl), a composer of originality and power (she studied with Bloch), and also a formidable teacher who inspired in her Los Angeles studio a new generation of pianists. This Ivory Classics release is the first time that all of Ethel Leginska's Columbia recordings (made between 1926 and 1928, and first released on 78rpm discs in 1928 and 1929) have ever been reissued on compact disc. This comprehensive aural document of one of the great musical personalities of the early 20th century also is accompanied by an extensive, and lavishly illustrated booklet. A must for all lovers of historic piano recordings!
Leginska's name has always been more honoured in the breach. A notable propagandist for women musicians - she was a composer and a conductor as well as a pianist - her reputation suffered inevitable decline, one exacerbated by the relative paucity of her recordings. The fact is that she had a most distinguished pedigree; a Leschetizky pupil until she was sixteen, studies in Berlin, a performance of the Henselt Concerto with Henry Wood whilst still in her mid-teens. Following her (failed) marriage she went to America where she continued to study - theory with Rubin Goldmark and composition with Ernest Bloch (three operas of hers, Gale, The Rose and the Ring and Joan of Arc, were written in the 1930s - she seems also to have excelled at orchestral works). Like Iturbi shortly after her, conducting became a passion and at thirty-seven she studied its technicalities with Robert Heger and Eugene Goossens (an old friend) and in time became known as one of the first major women conductors with a string of prestigious engagements. She conducted - opera as well as orchestral concerts - in London, Salzburg, New York and Boston. In 1932-33 she was conductor of the Montreal Opera Company.
Leginska was born Ethel Liggins in Hull in 1886. It was the snobbish Lady Maud Warrender who suggested the Slavic name to enhance her career though she was hardly unique in feeling that an English name was a hindrance to wider acceptability, not least in her own country. She was one of the most interesting and picaresque of British pianists born between Harold Bauer (b.1873) and Myra Hess (b.1890) - though one arguably less talented than her now little known contemporary, the superb Winifred Christie (b.1882). Like Bauer and Hess she gravitated fairly early to America (Hess was appreciated early in America; her iconic status in British musical life was not as secure as it now retrospectively seems always to have been). This is apparently the first time that her American Columbias, recorded in New York, have been reissued en bloc and they disclose a musician of distinct and considerable - though not unproblematic - gifts; sensitive, tonally splendid, with a command of phraseology that is frequently compelling. Schubert, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Liszt are the four composers represented on these early electrics. The Four Impromptus date from 1928 and were issued as Set No. 93. The B flat major embodies a genuine nobility - albeit in a rather deadpan sort of way - but the concluding F minor (No. 4 - Allegro scherzando) generates its own internal momentum and is full of contrast, both colouristic and in terms of depth of sound. The Six Moments Musicaux, together with the Impromptus, represent her primary contribution to the discography but are uneven. The first is full of fluency and tonal sagacity with strong architectural wisdom but the second, in A flat major, is rather earthbound with hints of metricality. The little F minor makes little impression in her performance but the C sharp minor is a fine reading - sonority, span and phrasing held in excellent equilibrium and no sign of any sectionality in a piece that can tend to buckle in less perspicacious hands. She is quite emphatic in the F minor (No. 5) and cultivates a rather rugged view of the concluding Allegretto though not one without interest. I was less taken by the Schubert-Tausig; rather finicky phrasing to my ears - italicised and stolid. I admired the way she abjured the speciously virtuosic, the overemphatic blunderbuss approach and the contrast she cultivates between rigidity and the flowing central panel of the music but I think it comes at too much of an overall cost.
Her Chopin is only so-so. The Prelude in D flat major in particular fails to convince because of insufficient engagement and poor tempo relationships. The Rachmaninov lacks fire; she seems to value architecture at the expense of leonine drama (which is not the same as vulgarity) so there's a lack of dramatic etching in the G minor Prelude and whilst her technique seems quite adequate for this and the C sharp minor, no sparks fly. The Liszt is not unattractive, there's some beautiful treble-orientated sonority but again she hardly comes across as a romantic virtuoso of declamatory vision.
Notwithstanding these critical observations this is a genuinely useful release. It restores important recordings to the catalogue and does so moreover in a helpful and attractive way. The transfers have been expertly handled and the booklet is both handsome and full of pertinent biographical information; period photographs only serve to enhance the attractiveness of the design - something of a model booklet. Bonus points to the imaginative mind that thought to reproduce the Columbia 78 label of one of the Moments Musicaux as part of the jewel case. A class act.
Music Web.com, Mar. 2003