Arbiter Records 147

Eugen d’ Albert: The Centaur Pianist

The Centaur Pianist: complete studio recordings 1910-1928

  • 2 cd set: first complete publication. In 2014 this CD was remastered for downloading along with an additional bonus track to contain all extant recordings of the pianist.
  • Released Nov 23, 2017
  • $36.99
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Disc 1

The Complete studio recordings: 1910-1928.

Eugen D’ Albert (1862-1932) was considered by his teacher Liszt to have been a phenomenon. As a pianist, Brahms esteemed him as one of the finest exponents of his concertos, taking up the baton to lead D’Albert in both on two occasions, the composer’s last conducting in public. D’Albert composed many operas and tried to abandon his piano career, but was forced to return to the stage whenever a new opera didn’t succeed. Said to have loathed recording, our new restoration reveals more details and a fiery spirit that went undetected for decades. Rare copies in perfect condition were provided for this comprehensive restoration of a pianism considered to have been the height of late 19th century playing.

  1. Schubert-Tausig Marche militaire
  2. Brahms Capriccio in B minor, op. 76, no. 2
  3. Chopin Polonaise in A flat, op. 53 (abridged)
  4. Chopin Valse in A flat, op. 42
  5. D' Albert Gavotte and Musette
  6. Weber Invitation to the Dance
  7. Chopin Etude in F minor, op. 25, no. 2
  8. Chopin Etude in G flat, op. 25, no. 9
  9. Liszt Au bord d' une source
  10. Beethoven-D' Albert Ecossaisses
  11. d' Albert Scherzo op. 16, no. 2
  12. Beethoven Andante favori
  13. Beethoven Bagatelle op. 129 Rage over a lost penny.
  14. Beethoven Sonata in C op. 53 : Rondo
  15. Beethoven Sonata in E flat op. 31, no. 3: Scherzo
  16. Chopin valse in C sharp minor, op. 64, no. 2
  17. Chopin Etude in G flat, op. 25, no. 9
  18. d' Albert Capriolen op. 32, nos. 2, 4, 5
  19. Debussy Estampes: Jardins sous la pluie
  20. Bax Mediterranean
  21. Goosens Kaleidoscope: The Punch and Judy Show
  22. Chopin Berceuse
  23. Chopin Polonaise in A flat, op. 53 (abridged)

Disc 2

Gramophone, Vox, Odeon, and Parlophone recordings

Tracks 17-19, 22 with Andreas Weisgerber, violin

Track 20-1 d’ Albert conducting the Grosse Opernochester, Staatskapelle, Berlin; with Gotthelf Pistor, tenor

  1. Chopin Nocturne in F sharp, op. 15, no. 2
  2. Chopin Valse in A flat, op. 42
  3. Schubert Impromptu in F minor, op. 142, no. 4
  4. Mozart Sonata in A, K. 331: Rondo alla Turca
  5. Liszt Au bord d' une source
  6. Schubert Impromptu in B flat, op. 142, no. 3
  7. Beethoven-D' Albert Ecossaisses
  8. d' Albert Gavotte and Musette
  9. d' Albert Die Toten Augen: Myrtocle's aria
  10. d' Albert Scherzo op. 16, no. 2
  11. Chopin Etude in G flat, op. 25, no. 9
  12. Chopin valse in C sharp minor, op. 64, no. 2
  13. Boccherini-Sauberger: Minuet
  14. d' Albert Gavotte and Musette
  15. Sauer Spieluhr
  16. Carreño Kleine Walzer
  17. Mozart Violin and Piano Sonata in C, K. 296: Andante sostenuto
  18. Beethoven Violin and Piano sonata in F, op. 24: Scherzo
  19. Beethoven Violin and Piano sonata in F, op. 24: Rondo
  20. d" Albert Tiefland: Zwischenspiel
  21. d" Albert Tiefland: Schau bei, das ist ein Taler
  22. Mozart Violin and Piano Sonata in C, K. 296: Andante sostenuto
  23. Weber Invitation to the Dance
  24. Schubert-Tausig Marche militaire
  25. bonus download track: Beethoven Piano Concerto in E-flat, Op. 73: I (Seidler-Winkler & Berlin Radio Orch.)

“[There] is a certain young man, called d’Albert, who was in Moscow last
winter, and whom I heard several times in public and at private houses. To my
mind he is a pianist of genius, the legitimate successor of [Anton] Rubinstein.”
-Tchaikovsky, letter to N. von Meck (14/26 July 1884)

What is one to make of a musical genius described by Bruno Walter as a “new centaur, half piano, half man”? Eugen d’Albert’s stellar reputation survives him, yet confusion surrounds the only part of his legacy we can judge for ourselves – his sound recordings. It is time to re-examine the glimpses that d’Albert’s sonic testimony offers of this great musician as soloist, composer, chamber musician, and conductor; even, perhaps, of how he practiced (Chopin’s Etude op. 25, no.9).

D’Albert, who despised all things English, was born in Glasgow in 1864, and died in Riga in 1932; his father was of Italian and French descent, while his mother came from Newcastle. Although in his youth he studied in London with Ernst Pauer, Ebenezer Prout, John Stainer, and Arthur Sullivan at what is now the Royal College of Music, he considered his work during this period more or less worthless. Winning the Mendelssohn Prize for composition allowed d’Albert to shake the dust of London off his boots and go to Vienna, where he worked with the conductor Hans Richter (he made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic under Richter on 26 February 1882), then to Weimar, where (starting in 1882) he worked with Liszt, becoming one of his most outstanding pupils; the one, possibly, closest to Liszt’s own ideals as a musician.

In Germany d’Albert found the country of his (musical) soul, ever after exalting Beethoven above all other composers and earning distinction as one of the finest interpreters of his music. (He also composed a cadenza for Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto and edited the piano sonatas.) In his autobiography, Unter dem Zimbelstern, Wilhelm Kempff recalled hearing d’Albert play Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto:

“There was probably only one pianist who could cause the critics’ sharpened pencils to fall miraculously out of their hands, as when this unique presence set out to construct the opening cadenza after the E-flat major fanfare in Beethoven’s last concerto. We instinctively stood up in order to hear this declamation of the mighty Proemium, as the piano was no longer being played here; rather there seemed to be a creator at work who came to construct a new world, a world made of tones. Many ‘colleagues’ liked to chastise a pied piper who could make even ‘wrong’ notes magical. By the Finale of the ‘Concerto of Concertos’ it was clear that a natural phenomenon was romping about, a phenomenon whose force no one could resist.

“To be sure, he went to school under the master magician Franz Liszt. But weren’t there also others? In any case, I could not get this experience out of my system for weeks and wherever I went and stood I saw this sorcerer at work, this one-of-a-kind figure with the skull of a lion, which seemed to bulge out endlessly, yet stood on a laughably small body for a head with such gigantic proportions.”

As d’Albert explained to Musical America (15 February 1913), the freedom of his Beethoven interpretations owed to his own work as a composer, through which he “attained to a larger and freer understanding of the orchestration of the piano” But d’Albert’s Beethoven was also a legacy of his contact with Liszt, who was, as Berlioz, Wagner, and so many others wrote, an incomparable interpreter of Beethoven’s music; d’Albert remembered Liszt’s performance of the Adagio of the Hammerklavier Sonata as “the sublimest playing ever achieved on the pianoforte.” Notably, listening to d’Albert play Beethoven spoiled Nietzsche to such an extent that he could hardly bear to listen to any other interpreter except Robert Freund, the brother of the pianist Etelka Freund and one of the few musicians from whom Ferruccio Busoni sought advice. (D’Albert was, indeed, a pianist admired far beyond the provincial bounds of the piano. He enjoyed, for example, a close friendship with the great dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann.)

D’Albert’s performances of the music of Brahms (especially the concertos, the Handel and Paganini Variations, and the Sonata op. 5), worked out with the composer himself, were also highly regarded. In Leipzig, on 31 January 1895, he played both concertos in a single concert with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Brahms himself. The next year, on 10 January, Brahms and d’Albert reprised their collaboration in Berlin. It may have been on this occasion that the following amusing incident, recounted in Robert Haven Schauffler’s The Unknown Brahms, occurred: “Frau Dr. Gerhart Hauptmann has told me that, when she studied violin with Joachim, she once saw Brahms and d’Albert make a unique entrance [onto the stage of the Singakademie]. The former was to conduct a concerto, the latter to play the solo part. Brahms missed the top step and nearly fell to the stage, while d’Albert came tumbling after and nearly landed on top of him.” (D’Albert, like Moriz Rosenthal, was notable for his ability to bridge musical camps that were antagonistic to one other. He was as thoroughly at ease with Liszt as with Brahms, while Tchaikovsky, whom Brahms despised, composed his Concert Fantasie under the spell of d’Albert’s playing. Tchaikovsky, in the same letter quoted in the epigraph, wrote that d’Albert possessed “that vein of virtuosity wherein lies the secret of the magic spell which great interpreters exercise over the public.”)

In 1884, d’Albert wrote a much-quoted, and considerably impolitic, letter to a German paper (later reprinted in England) correcting a biographical note on him. (In fact, d’Albert was impolitic his whole life.) The letter reads, in part:

“Above all things I scorn the title ‘English pianist!’ Unfortunately, I studied for a considerable period in that land of fogs, but during that time I learned absolutely nothing; indeed, had I remained there much longer, I should have gone to utter ruin. Only since I left that barbarous land have I begun to live. And I live now for the unique, true, glorious, German art.”

More than a decade later, d’Albert’s letter came back to haunt him. Arnold Bennett (his journal of Wednesday, 6 May 1896):

“Eugène d’Albert played to-night at the Philharmonic concert [in London]. A little, round-shouldered man, with diminutive legs and a shrewd face, who looked as if nature had intended him to wear a large white apron and be a chemist and druggist. He was coldly received, but when Liszt’s notoriously difficult E-flat concerto was finished, the audience had aroused itself, and an encore was inevitable.

“It appears that when Sullivan heard that the Philharmonic had engaged d’Albert, he threatened not only to remove his own name from the membership, but to do all he could to induce the Queen and the Prince of Wales to withdraw their patronage. However, he was persuaded to alter his plans. Sullivan helped d’Albert in every possible way when he was a student; obtained engagements for him at the Popular Concerts, the Crystal Palace, etc; and when d’Albert went to the Continent gave him introductions to all the Courts. Yet on his return, a year afterwards, d’Albert not only refused to call on Sullivan but threw contempt on him and all Englishmen. In the meantime Liszt had heard him play and spoken enthusiastically of him, dubbing him ‘the young Tausig.’ D’Albert, by the way, once (seriously?) claimed to be a (natural) son of Tausig, though there cannot be a shadow of justification for such a claim.”

This sums up the enigma that was d’Albert, as does, to a lesser degree, the fact that he arranged and often played Beethoven’s Ecossaises.
* * *
Although d’Albert is known to us today as a pianist first and a composer second, he (like Anton Rubinstein) regarded himself as a composer first and a pianist second (notwithstanding Liszt having called him “Albertus Magnus”). As he was quoted in Musical America (27 January or June 1908):

“It was my meeting with Liszt, the admiration he expressed for my playing and the unusual qualities that he professed to find in it that led to my success as a pianist. Otherwise I should never for a single day have been anything else than a composer; that is, I should have devoted every day to composition; whereas now for three or four months of the year I play the piano and devote the rest of the time to composition. I protest, however, that I have always been a composer who played the piano and not a pianist who composed.”

There is an element of disingenuousness here. D’Albert obviously sought to be a great pianist, and surely would have been one even had Liszt not expressed admiration for his playing. It is, indeed, fantastic that a man who claimed to have so little interest in piano playing – regarding it principally as a means of supporting his habit of composing – otherwise could have prompted Liszt to say to him, “In my younger days I should have enjoyed competing with you,” or given a performance of Chopin’s A minor Etude [op. 25, no. 11] in one of Liszt’s master classes that prompted Felix Weingartner to write, “we were all struck dumb with astonishment.” Kempff caught the relationship between d’Albert the pianist and d’Albert the composer very well: “Certainly he was not an important composer – who would maintain that? But his creative potential as a composer was enough to distill out the peculiar quintessence in which the creative and the re-creative found themselves in constant fluorescence. An excess of pure creative talent would have been too much; it would have killed the urge towards re-creation.”

The composer Hugo Wolf, who for a time wrote for the Wiener Salonblatt, described the difference between d’Albert and another great Liszt pupil, Rosenthal, after hearing them play in the Bösendorfersaal in 1886. Wolf shows that Liszt’s pupils sought to follow one of two paths. Rosenthal chose the path that Liszt himself followed up until 1848, then renounced: to be the greatest, if not the only, pianist in the world. D’Albert, by contrast, chose to follow the path that Liszt followed thereafter: to be a composer first (for all that he remained the defining pianist of the nineteenth century). Wolf:

“The playing of the two virtuosos, in the relationship of one to the other, was rather like a brilliant rocket and a glowing coal fire. Rosenthal’s playing ignites, d’Albert’s warms. The one inspires to deeds, the other to contemplation. Rosenthal plays more brilliantly, more exuberantly, more confident of victory. He plays the man of the world at the piano, and astonishes with his knowledge. D’Albert, on the other hand, plays more conscientiously, and more to satisfy himself than to delight the audience. When Rosenthal is already thundering, d’Albert is just beginning to rumble. But after the storm when the moon breaks through the clouds, d’Albert dreams and muses while his rival is still battling with the clouds. In short, d’Albert strikes us as the more maidenly, more sensitive of the two, Rosenthal as the more energetic, the more virile.”

Of d’Albert’s many operas, only Tiefland has made any claims to a permanent place in the active repertoire. Likewise, any performance or recording of the original works d’Albert wrote for his own instrument – among other pieces, Suite in d, op. 1; Concerto in b, op. 2; Sonata in f sharp, op. 10 (dedicated to Hans von Bülow); and Concerto in E, op. 12 (written for Teresa Carreño) – has the air of a revival; welcome, but a revival all the same.
D’Albert recorded only six of his own piano works: Gavotte and Musette from the Suite op. 1; Scherzo op. 16, no. 2 (dedicated to Edouard Risler); and three of the Capriolen (Caprices). He also recorded a transcription of Myrtocles’ aria from his opera Die toten Augen, combining the voice and orchestral parts. (We are fortunate that d’Albert was able to preserve this work in the face of the usual demands for show pieces, encores, and fragments.) Fanny Bloomfield-Zeisler played the Gavotte and Musette, but such eminent colleagues of d’Albert’s as Ignaz Friedman, Vladimir de Pachmann, and Moriz Rosenthal played nothing he wrote; hardly a sign of esteem. Indeed, when asked if he thought d’Albert a great composer, Rosenthal answered, with annihilating sarcasm, that he knew d’Albert’s opera Die Abreise (The Departure): “What varied thoughts are suggested by the very title! A cold, dreary day, for instance; lovers bidding each other farewell, perhaps forever; tears, kisses, vows, more tears – the mere idea is heartrending.”
It seems as if most of his contemporaries loathed d’Albert as a person while being stunned by his playing. Yet the musician who manifested the greatest antipathy to d’Albert was Busoni. No small part of the Busoni-d’Albert relationship hinged on their different ideas about transcribing the music of J. S. Bach for the piano. Busoni dedicated the most famous of his Bach transcriptions – the Chaconne – to d’Albert, who told Busoni that while he was gratified by the dedication, he did not consider the Chaconne to be as successful as Busoni’s transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552. (D’Albert was also the dedicatee of Richard Strauss’s Burleske.) Busoni himself conspicuously avoided taking on the Passacaglia BWV 582, considering that a transcription for one piano would have too much music, for two pianos too little. Although the Passacaglia had already been transcribed for one piano by, among others, Georges Catoire and Fritz Malata, Busoni was stung by d’Albert’s success in solving a problem that he could not. Busoni was also stung – and far more painfully – by d’Albert’s greater success as a composer of operas, even though Busoni’s own stage works flew in the face of what was likely to ensure popular success. By the end of his life Busoni’s jealousy of d’Albert, to whom he felt superior musically and even morally, led him to repudiate his colleague, referring to him as “d’Alberich.”
Temperamentally, d’Albert was, as the Viennese impresario George Kügel told the pianist and photographer Bruce Hungerford, “very strange sometimes.” He could be generous to his colleagues, as the long passage from Paul Roës given below illustrates, but also – like Rosenthal – malicious (and maliciously witty). Wilhelm Backhaus studied with d’Albert (insofar as d’Albert could be said to have been a teacher; he was more of a coach), but d’Albert did not like Backhaus because their temperaments were so different: Backhaus being a perfectionist; d’Albert, like Anton Rubinstein, an artist for whom the great conception was what counted. A story goes that Backhaus’s cufflinks brushed the keys when he was playing for d’Albert, and that d’Albert thereafter said, “His cufflinks were the only thing that clicked with Backhaus.”

* * *

D’Albert was married six times, most famously to the pianist Teresa Carreño. Backhaus, in d’Albert’s view, may have lacked temperament, but Carreño did not; their predictably stormy marriage lasted only three years, from 1892 to 1895. Part of the conflict, as Michal Hambourg remembered her father, Mark Hambourg, saying, was that d’Albert tried to change Carreño’s playing too much. Carreño had sought to learn from d’Albert how to become a more profound interpreter than she had been before their marriage, and though she succeeded, he continued to push her. Another part of the conflict was that d’Albert – regardless of the fact that he put composing above piano playing – was jealous of Carreño’s pianism. In From Piano to Forte, Hambourg wrote of hearing one of the famous Doppelkonzerte that d’Albert and Carreño gave after their marriage: “I preferred her performance to his. He had curbed her passionate temperament into a semblance of German dignity, but had not fortunately deprived her playing of its strong originality.” Claudio Arrau also felt that Carreño “was a better pianist than d’Albert himself, although he was probably the greater musician” And though Carreño composed herself, d’Albert recorded only one of her works: Kleine Valzer.

Once d’Albert likened his wives to Beethoven symphonies, and said that he intended to marry until he got up to the ninth, with chorus. (Whether the chorus would be ex-wives or children was not specified!) Unfortunately, he lived long enough only to get up to the “Pastoral.” His first wife was the then under-aged Louise Salingré; his second Carreño (older by almost a decade); the “Eroica” the mezzo-soprano Hermine Finck, who sang the role of the witch in the premiere of Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel; his fourth, the actress Ida Fulda (née Theumann); his fifth Friederike (“Fritzi”) Jauner; and his sixth Hilda Fels. (His final companion was Virginia Zanetti.) His death in Riga came during efforts to divorce wife number six. As Elsa Galafrés, the second wife of Erno Dohnanyi, wrote in LivesLovesLosses (1973):

“To most people d’Albert’s actions were frankly immoral. Erno did not think so. Years later in a discussion he produced his views, interesting or prophetic perhaps in the light of his own life: ‘I see d’Albert neither as immoral nor an adulterer. I would call him rather a marriage fanatic, who can only enjoy love fully in a legitimate way!'”
Brahms, however, was amused by d’Albert’s marriage history, as Schauffler writes (The Unknown Brahms): “Two months before his death [Brahms] complained of the often married d’Albert, finding it monotonous that the fellow still had the same wife as on his previous visit.”

* * *
Although d’Albert’s contemporaries praised his playing to the skies, listeners who knew him only by his recordings sometimes wondered why; they believed they were hearing a pianist who was lazy, indifferent, or past his prime, when in fact it was the poor quality of the recordings that was obscuring his legacy. His first sittings before the horn, for Odeon, circa 1910, find the pianist recording several works twice, possibly over several days, as a group of these discs was compromised by a motor on the recording machine that failed to maintain a consistent speed. Thus the Brahms, Liszt, Weber, and Schubert-Tausig begin nearly a whole tone sharp, and gradually wind down by more than a half step. Old restoration methods further deformed d’Albert’s acoustic recordings, making the sounds lying within the grooves stressful to listen to and forcing the auditor to extrapolate what could not be heard. This CD allows d’Albert’s playing to speak for itself for the first time, revealing subtleties of touch and pedaling, varieties of tonal shading and dynamics, that were lost to previous generations.

While elements of d’Albert’s recordings may be opposed on stylistic grounds – the final chords he adds to the end of Schubert’s Impromptu op. 142, no. 4, for example, or Chopin’s Etude op. 25, no. 2 (a section of which he repeats, with subtle shifts in pedaling, rubato, and the intensity of tonal projection; did he adopt this practice in concert?) – these embody not laziness or indifference, but a past interpretive ethos.

Accounts left by d’Albert’s contemporaries show him to have been susceptible to a certain mental abstraction that had nothing to do, again, with laziness or indifference. Kügel, for one, remembered d’Albert rehearsing Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto in Vienna on an “ordinary” Bösendorfer grand piano (most probably a Bösendorfer 275), then in the evening, finding himself faced with a Bösendorfer “Imperial” model (a piano with a full eight octaves – 97 keys). Losing his orientation on the keyboard – at that time the “extra” notes were white – he began the opening phrase of the concerto an octave lower than written. (According to Simon Oss of Bösendorfer, the nine sub-bass notes of the “Imperial” are now black because several pianists, in fact, had difficulty orienting themselves to its keyboard.) D’Albert, terribly upset, stopped playing; the piano tuner placed a cover over the “extra” notes; and d’Albert began again – correctly. (This would have been in 1912: d’Albert’s fourth and final appearance with the Vienna Philharmonic was this performance of Beethoven’s G major Concerto, conducted by Weingartner, on 31 March of that year.)
D’Albert was, by temperament as well as technique, a pianist for the major works of the repertoire, yet these were not the works he recorded: no Schumann Fantasie, no Liszt Sonata, no Brahms Handel Variations. Nonetheless, several of his recordings are object lessons in interpretation. We can now hear how natural a pianist he was, so free with the music, his approach changing with every piece. Galafrés again: Dohnanyi felt “that d’Albert used his technique neither as the implement of a juggler, nor as a means of arousing emotions, but as an infinite, manifold tool capable of all nuances of expression in the most individual reproduction of a masterwork.” His Mozart Rondo (a rare example of an early recorded pianist playing pre-Beethoven repertoire) is at first sparsely pedaled then increasingly “orchestrated.” His second recording of the Chopin Polonaise op. 53 hints at the heroism found in Friedman’s two versions. (In a letter to his father dated 6 June 1882, d’Albert wrote that “Listz [sic] gave me a lesson on the Berceuse and Polonaise [op. 53] of Chopin and gave me many good hints.”) His Debussy is “objective,” reminiscent of Rosenthal’s approach to Albeniz’s Triana.

It is as well to cite a handful of the recordings on this CD, showing, as they do, the catholicity of his technique.

D’Albert’s vital, insightful performances of Liszt’s Au bord d’une source are the only surviving examples of this short masterpiece played by a Liszt pupil. Notice how d’Albert pedals nearly to the point of saturation, and takes time in the passage work to allow the overtones’ prismatic expansion of the principal notes. This is the genuine Liszt tradition, wherein the fioritura do not degenerate into mere athletic display. In terms of mood, d’Albert’s interpretation seems to be truly at one with Schiller’s epigraph to the work: “In säuselnder Kühle / beginnen die Spiele / der jungen Natur” (“In murmuring coolness the play of young Nature begins”). With Arthur Friedheim’s Feux Follets and Emil von Sauer’s La Ricordanza, this is among the finest extant recordings of Liszt’s music.
D’Albert’s recording of the Chopin Nocturne op. 15, no. 2 is distinguished, almost visionary. In his autobiography, Kempff wrote a beautiful description of hearing him in this repertoire:

” the lion had retracted his paws and now he began to touch the black monster, which he had spent the entire evening on top of, with velvety paws, in such a way that his skin seemed to bristle with pleasure. Yes, from the hairs standing on end of this so tenderly beloved monster, did I not see a flash of green lights as the magician then let the tone of the fading fermata oscillate to create the illusion of a human voice’s perfect vibrato?
“I almost got nervous before the repeat of this strange passage, as I thought that something so singular could not be said twice. And again, he arrived at this A-sharp, which was lying silently there on the keyboard, and again his hand hovered over the mysteriously sparkling black key, like the spirit of God over the waters.

“No, there was no repetition with this man. Because this time the tone, which barely struck was already preordained to sweet transience, appeared, and which in fading away resulted in a thousand others; this time it did not appear to belong to a human voice. It was the beguiling lament of the Oreads and Sirens, who, with their calls, do not allow men to sleep until they follow the sounds like sleepwalkers and wed them, dying. “

There is splendor in the first of the two Schubert impromptus that d’Albert recorded. In op. 142, no. 4, he follows Schubert’s indication “Allegro scherzando” more closely than any other nineteenth-century pianist did. Along with Au bord d’une source, this is perhaps d’Albert’s finest solo recording. This is the grand manner. In the “Rosamunde” Impromptu (from which the third and fourth variations are omitted due to the disc’s limited playing time), d’Albert projects the melody like a Lied, while his attention to the inner voices reveals a composer’s insight. Note how he balances all the elements as if playing chamber music.

In fact, d’Albert was a consummate chamber music player. He once gave a cycle of the Beethoven violin and piano sonatas with Bronislaw Huberman, and appeared with the Bohemian Quartet, Pablo Casals, and many other soloists and ensembles. On this CD, he can be heard in this role in sonata movements by Mozart and Beethoven.

D’Albert’s collaborator in these recordings was Andreas Weissgerber (1900-1941). Weissgerber’s family, which was Jewish, had its roots in Sadagura (renowned for miracle performing rabbis), near Czernowitz in the Bukovina, at the outer extremity of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire immortalized by Gregor von Rezzori in his Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. Weissgerber’s family settled in Volos, Greece, where he was born shortly before they moved to Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). As a prodigy, he performed throughout the Ottoman Empire, once playing in Constantinople for Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who rewarded him with four parrots. He studied in Budapest with Jenö Hubay – also the teacher of Szigeti, Telmanyi, Zathurecky, Martzy and many other eminent violinists – then in Berlin with the Odessa-born Issay Barmas.

Aside from his discs with d’Albert, Weissgerber made recordings for Vox (partnered by Karol Szreter), Homochord, and, after Hitler rose to power, the Lukraphone label – possibly designated for Jews only – with Kurt Sanderling at the piano. Soon after he emigrated to Israel with his brother, Joseph, a cellist; both had been recruited by Huberman to join the Palestine Symphony. A sound film made of him at the time, Shir Ivri (Hebrew Melody), was discovered among his brother’s possessions and published on DVD. He died of a heart attack in Tel Aviv.

D’Albert’s performance of the Capriccio op. 129 (“Rage over a lost penny”), in which he articulates the music’s progressive descent into the grotesque, is a rare and valuable example of late Beethoven played by a pre-Schnabel artist. One wishes it were possible to extrapolate d’Albert’s performance of the last sonatas from these hints, since he left no recordings of any Beethoven sonatas after op. 53. His recording of the “Waldstein” does, at least, give us a sense of his approach to middle-period Beethoven, the odd moments (slowing down and articulating the details of what should be octave glissandi) suggesting that d’Albert appreciated Beethoven’s quirkiness, or simply took it easy when not facing an audience (see the following memoir by Roës). Unfortunately, d’Albert did not record any multi-movement work by Beethoven in its entirety. He did leave us the Andante favori, which Beethoven originally intended as the middle movement of the “Waldstein.” And his performance shows why Beethoven was wise to jettison it: here, at least, the music is so eloquent and animated that in combination with the outer movements it would be too much. D’Albert plays the second movement from the Sonata op. 31, no. 3 with unforced amiability and spontaneous wit.

* * *

Perhaps it is as well to end in an arcane corner of the d’Albert literature: Paul Roës’ “An Impromptu Lesson, Resulting Unexpectedly from an Indiscretion” (Music, the Mystery and the Reality):

This happened in Vienna where a young pianist [Roës himself] was to give a concert two days hence. He went to the firm of Bösendorfer, celebrated piano manufacturer, to practice. In the corridor, before entering his studio, he heard someone playing behind the opposite closed door. This playing possessed extraordinary power and its progress was most curious.
Attracted, he paused and listened. Each passage, after a rapid execution, was repeated so slowly and in such a let-down manner that one had the impression that the pianist no longer knew the passage in question; after having livened up a little bit, the initial speed was never resumed. Then he worked in the same manner some other passages.
Suddenly the playing stopped and the door opened abruptly; the indiscreet one saw a little man with fluttering eyelids appear, who said to him, “Please do me the pleasure of not listening behind the door,” then seeing the consternation of the guilty one who had just recognized the amazing pianist Eugene d’Albert, added, “Come on in then, and tell me who you are.” The young pianist apologized, gave his name and Eugene d’Albert thoughtfully inclined his head.

I saw your name on the advertisement this week; it is you who play the day after tomorrow in the concert hall, at the same time as I play?

Yes Master, that is right.

Then you can do me a service; if you will sit down I will tell you how.

The unexpected guest complied, happy as he was overcome by the good luck of finding himself, all of a sudden, by the side of that pianist for whom Busoni himself had the highest esteem, a pianist who had been the only one to make such an impression on Busoni. Such an encounter was not one to put the eavesdropper at ease, but d’Albert’s good nature, which in no wise diminished his authority, revealed itself. In a confidential tone he resumed:

Would you like to observe how I free myself from nervousness before a concert? In your presence, I am going to relax my playing completely, which is exactly the contrary of what pianists ordinarily do before playing in public. Here is the Méphisto Waltz. I am listening to its division into groups of four measures as Liszt indicates, and I am allowing my playing to follow slowly, always behind what I am hearing. You see that apparently nothing remains of my “command of playing.” I allow my hands to go carelessly where they will and it is this reducing of all effort to the minimum which brings on the drifting, the uncertainty. I am playing pretty badly, am I not?

And indeed, this playing of a giant had changed itself into something mushy, as if it were the attempts of a child.

But then, while you abstain from all effort, are you not meanwhile taking all sorts of risk?
That is correct, and the debacle is all the more complete because you are present. Nothing is more effective than putting one’s nerves to the test of producing the minimum of effort before a concert; nothing is more detrimental than indulging in illusions by forcing effort before a concert.

The young pianist, most humble, thus listened and comprehended the significance of what he had been told, and d’Albert continued for about twenty minutes. Then d’Albert rose, walked around the studio, and said:

I do this in order to view myself from a distance And believe me, if during a concert one is able to view himself from a distance, then one is truly playing in a disengaged manner. Now, since I have egotistically enlisted you as a “lightning rod witness,” to make up for it I shall explain to you certain things.

I cannot tell you what joy you give me!

I beg of you. First of all, here in Vienna, accept things with this musical ease which is in the air. If Vienna did not yet exist, I believe that music would construct her. What musicality unfolds itself here from the atmosphere and from the soil! What are you going to play the day after tomorrow?

Among other things I am playing the Appassionata.

His little eyes sparkled. He returned to the piano and played the entire Appassionata. The young pianist remembered at this moment a phrase written on the subject of d’Albert’s interpretations of the Sonatas opp. 53, 57 and 101: “His interpretations will remain an example for generations to come.” Imagine the admiration of the young pianist when he heard the initial motif, C, A flat, F, continued and intensified in the sudden burst of the fifteenth measure by an almost imperceptible pause before the E natural which begins the first group of sixteenth notes, and by a light accent on the first E of the following group! This set the stage in a grand manner for the whole first movement of the Sonata.
Scarcely had d’Albert finished playing the last two chords when he signalled to the young man to remain silent a moment, seeming still to listen to what he had just created.

You must judge, after playing a piece of very great volume, the silence which follows If there remains the least remembrance of sound, the execution has not been perfect.
As d’Albert, without waiting for a word of admiration from the young pianist, began again to play some passages in his “let-down” manner, the latter had a curious thought: in what manner did this man develop his gigantic interpretations? Until now, his conception was one of a Titan, incarnation of the grand forces of nature, who plunged deep into the thickest of forests, having an innate prowess such as wild beasts possess. At this instant the young man realized that, for this man, the structure of playing was based on the slow and patient accumulation of basic rudiments, yet completely dominated by his inspiration.After a silence, he dared ask:

How can you relate the power of your Appassionata to the preliminary work and what follows it?

The answer was instantaneous:

To what force can we resort if it does not emanate from our thoughts? And if, underlying the rhythms, the long tracings and the enormous sonorous masses, there does not abide our frail but otherwise powerful affectivity? You know very well from whom I learned this manner of playing, never forget it.

The name of Liszt had not been mentioned but what silent homage! Eugene d’Albert continued:

You have certainly noticed that, in the second movement, I played the thirty-second notes as a melody and not as an accompaniment; this should show you that almost the entire Sonata is a continuous melody. Everything ascends in this work, save the final passage.
I understand what you are saying perfectly and I must tell you that today I have received the lesson of my life

Don’t mention it, for I understand; fortunately we all experience these moments. Before parting, I would like to play for you the Impromptu in G flat major by Schubert. You will hear a superb voice which seems to speak.

Eugene d’Albert’s touch modified itself substantially. It seemed to draw more upon the resources of relaxed “démonté” playing, above all in the accompanying part. He played the eighth notes of the melody relatively slower than the quarter notes, thus giving to that long melodic line a superhuman tranquility. In the final phrase, one heard a delightful reminiscence of the scene at the spring in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

I have not asked you to play anything for me, for that would not be good for you just before your concert, but I am sure that I will see you again soon. Look you, the one who finishes his recital first must come over to the other one; we are playing in the same building, are we not? Agreed?

I believe that I am in fact the only one who is able to promise that. I shall come therefore to see you in your dressing room after the concert to thank you again for your great kindness.

And so it turned out. When the young pianist had finished several encores and received several people in his dressing room, he found the other concert hall filled to capacity, a public bursting with enthusiasm, and Eugene d’Albert in the process of playing his “nth” encore: the Impromptu in G flat major by Schubert.

This souvenir of Vienna made a everlasting impression on the young pianist; he often recalled that epoch when the great interpreters were not yet unapproachable.

– Notes by Mark Mitchell and Allan Evans