Bartók’s summoning of living and dead composers.


When one overlooks the norm of current performances to seek Bartók himself performing his own works, contact with his unique approach will alter your judgment of all other interpreters. Disappointed by being bested by the younger Wilhelm Backhaus


at a piano competition, the world was luckier for the lack of a stellar career of touring would have limited the time he spent in collecting folk music, a bold and unprecedented crossing of class lines that led him to create a musical language of his own.


Bartók transcribing a field recording cylinder.

Bartók taught piano, not composition, but explained music from a creator’s perspective. Even live performances in works by other composers offer details, extremely crucial ones, that will open up a composition’s inner life. Most people will not associate Bartók with Beethoven, aside from a previous dimly-restored performance of the Kreutzer Sonata (Op. 47) with his sonata partner Joseph Szigeti (seen here with clarinetist Benny Goodman while recording Bartók’s Contrasts.)


and a fragment preserved on an x-ray plate used to record his Budapest radio broadcasts on demand by poetess Sophie Török, an admirer whose personal intervention rescued several hours of his legacy.


When I first heard Irén Marik playing Liszt on a discarded vinyl lacking any cover or info, a vision arose of a young lady seated with impeccably correct posture at the piano,


Bartók standing nearby, advising. After a rare discovery that led to tracing her in the California desert she verified that Bartók had been her teacher. “Did you study his music with him?” “I first played something of his and he said ‘I see you understand it so let’s go on to Beethoven and Mozart.'” Marik was the closest to the composer’s own playing but what did he convey in other composers?

A clue was detected in the opening of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. The violin’s first phrase has arpeggiated chords that cover several strings. One can play then in a constricted manner within their allotted time or spread them out. An insignificant detail? Two recordings from the 1920s to examine: Isolde Menges with Liszt-pupil Arthur de Greef at the piano, followed by Jacques Thibaud with pianist Alfred Cortot:


Both violinists phrase a taut opening, matched by pianists that keep their hands together. Bartók and Szigeti are different:


Many scholars and the puritanic would dislike the way Bartók breaks the chords, written as solid sounds by Beethoven himself. Yet by subtly copying Szigeti’s arpeggiated attacks we are exposed to an irregularity within a pattern, the basis of chaos theory. Dr. Henry Burnett uncovered similar actions that involved opening gambits through chromatic notes that comprise a new theory of tonality spanning from the late Renaissance to early Schoenberg, a penetration that leaves Schenker in the shade. Beethoven will unfold a rhythmic interplay throughout his sonata that developed out of what is considered to be incorrect, a  trivial gesture. That integral detail has a subliminal DNA role that comes to light elsewhere, especially in this later passage that otherwise sounds like a flippant rhythmic interlude unless one is aware of its origins. Beethoven augments and shortens the arpeggi into rhythmic gestures that evoke origins in the piece’s opening (again Szigeti and Bartók), a way to ensure identity and continuity:


What kind of Bach did Marik from Bartók? His performance of the Fifth Partita in G survives on x-ray plate decelith discs with some gaps occurring whenever a new three-minute side was mounted (the record store owner who provided this service eventually bought a second machine to overlap while changing discs.)


The opening Preambulum is complete, newly restored:


Bartók kept company with Robert and Etelka, familiars of Brahms. How could their connections with this recently deceased composer not have been taken up by Bartók? An x-ray contains has Bartók’s performance of the Capriccio in B minor, Op. 76, no. 2:


With his wife Ditta Pasztory, a piano duo started up, around the time he composed his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. They continued as long as his health endured, playing contemporary works such as Colin McPhee’s Balinese Ceremonial Music.


Those familiar with his Mikrokosmos will recall From the Isle of Bali. I asked Bartók’s son Peter, author of a splendid family memoir, if his father had Balinese recordings from 1928, the only pre-war session. “He had the Music of the Orient set [1930],” referred to by Percy Grainger as his introduction to gamelan. They played Debussy’s En blanc et noir which adds to our experience of Bartók and Debussy as he and Szigeti included the Violin Sonata in their recital. Part of the first movement is heard. One can pick up many traces of Javanese music in Debussy.


The entire first movement of the Beethoven Kreutzer sonata should be listened to, know that you have a better grasp of Bartók’s pianism and creator’s mindset.


Second to Bartók’s pioneering exploration of folk music was Zoltan Kodaly.

Bartók’s first studio recordings comprised folk-song settings of Kodaly’s and his own. Two examples by Kodaly are sung by the contralto Maria Basilides accompanied by Bartók


A rossz feleség (The Heartless Wife) opens as a dirge with a child urging her mother to come home as the father is dying, only to be put off.


A children’s song Kitrákotty mese (Cockricoo) concludes with the tale of someone heading to a fair to buy animals with half a coin, imitating their unique sounds:


The unending charm and sparkle in Bartók’s playing resonates the love and insights gained from leaving society to seek music from the peasants, a period he considered to have been the happiest days of his life.

–Allan Evans ©2016












Grieg up close

In 1993 a celebration of Edvard Grieg’s 150th birthday was being organized at a conservatory where I was teaching. Young Norwegian musicians were to be flown in to New York and perform his works and the organizer, a trombone teacher, was taking care of the details. At that time I located a record collector willing to share his own copies of recordings made by Grieg himself in a Paris studio one day in 1903. Their rarity is such that some exist in one known copy, a pathetic oversight when considering how many of Grieg’s recordings by others flood the market and airwaves to leave his own playing unknown and inaccessible. I proposed playing them with some words, a half hour at most, unpaid. “It’s not relevant to the occasion” was his professional way of saying “Get lost!”

grieg & bro

Grieg was probably ill at ease when he and his brother (taller, on right) left their town of Bergen to arrive in the imposing prestigious university city of Leipzig, where Schumann’s colleagues were still about and teaching, imprinting the influence of their colleague who had passed away nearly a decade earlier onto a budding composer from the far North who was to perfect a classical training that nourished an ongoing empirical contact with his country’s folk music, a trait not lost on later pioneers of ethnomusicology such as Bartók.

Bartók collecting

While some one or two hundred in the 1993 audience heard what they were permitted to hear, we can now bypass their shortcomings by offering Grieg’s complete piano recordings made on discs – not gimmicky inaccurate piano rolls –  for listening by anyone daring to click below. These nine works were mostly composed decades earlier and still reveal an enthusiasm that evokes the joy of inspiration by making a sonic objet trouvée or folk-based tune into a solid masterpiece miniature. Here is his legacy in sound, arranged via the playlist:

  1. Alla Menuetto, from Sonata in E Minor, op. 7
  2. Finale (Molto Allegro), from Sonata in E Minor, op. 7 (abridged)
  3. Humoreske in G-sharp Minor, op. 6, no. 2
  4. Norwegian Bridal Procession, op. 19, no. 2
  5. Lyric Pieces: Butterfly, op. 43, no. 1
  6. Lyric Pieces: To Spring, op. 43, no. 6
  7. Lyric Pieces: Gangar (Norwegian Peasants’ March), op. 54, no. 2
  8. Lyric Pieces: Wedding-Day at Troldhaugen, op. 65, no. 6 (abridged)
  9. Lyric Pieces: Remembrances, op. 71, no. 7

recorded in Paris, 2 May 1903 on an upright piano.


The pianist-composer and his singer-spouse Nina, at home in Bergen, Norway:

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 11.23.00 PM

During a two-decade-plus  Ignaz Friedman hunt, I spent several days in Oslo unearthing interviews, programs before sailing back  to Copenhagen with a thick folder. Friedman stuck out First World War there, using diplomats to smuggle supplies to his wife and daughter back in Berlin via unchecked diplomatic pouches. Copenhagen’s numerous archives sprung up leads almost daily. One of the Norwegian clippings mentioned that the pianist Ingebjørg Gresvik had spent a summer with Friedman studying at his home in Siusi, above Bolzano, Italy in the Dolomites. She was listed in the Bergen phone book and after our chat I sailed at once back to Oslo and grabbed a night train to cross Norway and reach its western shore. As soon as Gresvik opened her door there was absolutely no way that any time could be spent elsewhere in Bergen: adieu to seeking the Grieg house, museums, their old town. Her warmth and enthusiasm in having been sought after brought out a spontaneous camaraderie that had to eliminate all else. I ended up staying as her guest for two days.

Gresvik 1908-2000

Gresvik was then 76 years old and once inside she opened onto many worlds. I left a tape recorder running finds her describing the Friedman she knew in 1935. Although she had been out of practice for over a decade, her soulful witty playing won me over as did her memory and modest insight. (photo: Gresvik in traditional dress)


Her words were casually taped in May of 1985 and much off-mic comments were noted, especially her closeness to the composer Sinding. By starting with her portraying Friedman as the first well-known touring pianist to annually tour Norway and become a national favorite, many doors opened as Gresvik recounted  Ibsen’s daughter, a Berliner friend who was a relative of Walter Rathenau, and her studies with pianist Edwin Fischer in Potsdam.


She spoke lovingly of  Istvan Ipolyi, her great musical mentor. He had been a founding member of the Budapest String Quartet, an ensemble originating with Hungarians and becoming entirely Russian-Lithuanian. Ipolyi, their violist, left the group in 1927 to settle in Oslo where he formed a string quartet and taught chamber music to Gresvik.

Budapest Hauser Emil Ipolyi Istvá Harry Son Pogány Imre

Ipoly – second from left, with Emil Hauser, and on the right, Harry Son and Imre Pogany.

Unlike the familiar sounds of the non-Hungarian Budapest ensemble we get an idea of a far different approach from the primary group’s 1927 recording of the first movement in Beethoven’s String Quartet in F, Op. 18, No. 1:


Gresvik was horrified at the threats and deprivations the Jewish Ipolyi suffered once the Nazis invaded Norway. A biography of the quartet states: “Violist Istvan lpolyi settled in Norway, where the Budapest had spent many summers rehearsing before each concert season. During the German occupation of that country, he was arrested and placed in a detention prison, awaiting deportation to a Nazi prison. It was a nightmarish experience. “Every night, going to bed,” Ipolyi later said, “I am remembering the horrible feelings I had on the evenings in the concentration camp, never knowing what the next day will bring. Through the personal intervention of Count Bernadotte, head of the International Red Cross, lpolyi was freed. He fled to Sweden and remained there for the duration of the war. On his re­turn to Norway, he became a Norwegian citizen, mentor of a quartet in Bergen, and a professor. He and his wife lived what he called “a rather secluded life.” He loved teaching, he wrote Sasha [Alexander Schneider), who sent him food packages after the war-“I feel drunken when working with my favourites. And particularly with the quartet.” Mischa saw to it that he received the royalties due him from record sales. Ipolyi wrote several books, claiming to Sasha that he had “found an entirely new theory of the origin of music.” He died in Bergen on January 2, 1955, at the age of sixty-eight.”

Gresvik passed away in 2000 at the age of 92 and when I located her one descendant, a daughter in Oslo, she was about to be hospitalized for intensive therapy and excused herself from being able to help find and preserve her mother’s archive. Once you hear Gresvik in 1948 playing Grieg’s Ballade, Op. 24, a variation on a folk song, you will sense how urgent it is to rescue whatever is left of her legacy and bring to light any of her radio recordings from their silent tombs.


–Allan Evans ©2016




Hooked on Fried



Fried was everywhere, at the crucial moments of music’s inner life. Dining with Ravel, Stravinsky, Nijinsky in Paris the night before he joined them for the Rite of Spring’s premiere. He was the first to conduct for the young Horowitz after he managed to get out of the Soviet Union, the first one backstage when Bartók premiered in Berlin, with Prokofiev for their last concert in Berlin soon before the Nazis took over. Lenin met his train when he came as the first foreign artist invited to the new Russia, joining a nude dance of Josephine Baker at his count friend’s Paris pad.

543896131 copy

Fried hid his tracks with sparse yet sharp-edged interviews, probably due to side activity like the Bolshevik espionage most likely detailed in a forgotten NKVD dossier awaiting rescue after someone gets bribed in Moscow. His death was reported as if it had been a staged event: cursing the overhead German planes from a hospital death bed during the week when Stalin cleaned out all remaining Germans from the capitol, even though Fried took on Russian citizenship some years earlier. No one knows where and if he was buried.  Alexander Gurdon, a German scholar, crafted a dissertation on Fried that awaits publication and translation.

As a musician, Fried grasps and projects the essence of each work he takes on. Tchaikovsky reaches us through this Nutcracker Suite’s Arabian Dance with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. We’re hypnotically lured into a sonic tent:


While Tchaikovsky may charm, it’s Fried’s association with Mahler that draws the composer’s numerous admirers like moths to light in order to pick Fried up for a momentary glimpse based on one major piece of recorded evidence. As someone unable to endure Mahler’s undermining expressive moments with kitsch, it seems that devotees of his music abuse it as a soundtrack for onanistic reveries. As a once would-be biographer I would have been compromised by my reluctance to explore Fried’s association with the composer as it would have incurred over-exposure to his music. Fried sits on the right at the Mahler family’s summertime lunch:


Fried’s main concern to the Mahlerians was his achieving the  first recording ever of a complete Mahler symphony, the Second with the Berlin Staatsoper in 1924. It is accepted as a relic of their profound relationship although all previous attempts to restore it obscured most of the details, therefore making it even more eligible for their mental vagaries and anything but a palpable musical experience. I dragged its opening through the depths of my sonic depth technology and came up with this result:


Of course even an improvement over a reduced symphony orchestra stuffed into a tiny space to pour out their soundings into a lone recording acoustical horn will also be compromised, as their need to stop every four minutes for a new wax to be loaded and record the next section limits continuity and a full capture of its timbres.

The British Library turned up a collection of UK home recordings made in the 1930s and one had been mislabelled in their catalog as conducted by Iskar Fried. It contained a movement from Das Lied von der Erde, broadcasted by the BBC in 1936 with an alto soloist pouring out its text in English. Taken from a real life event with full orchestra, captured by microphone and with a complete absence of any time constraints, we clearly hear Fried’s projection of Mahler’s orchestra. Nothing metronomic about it as the song flows before landing into an explosion. The full performance is published on our Oskar Fried CD:

Oskar Fried: Mahler’s disciple

but here is the opening of An die Schönheit with Astra Desmond, alto. :


Yet with all the Mahler studies, conferences, texts, media attention, this unique performance has been uniformly ignored, perhaps by its threat to the security of Mahlerian dreamers reluctant to allow any new evidence to upset the pecking order.

Fried was a witness and interpreter of Stravinsky’s new music, being a pioneer when he and the Berliners recording the Firebird Suite. Who would have had the guts to be the first German conductor invited back to Paris after World War I and offer the riot-provoking Le Sacre paired with Beethoven’s Ninth? He luckily was recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in 1928. One’s expectation and craving intensifies with each phrase:


Fried lived with his dachshund in a house outside of central Berlin, aside a lake. One reporter espied him at home (left, holding an axe):



Fried often programmed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Berlin tradition was to perform the work on New Years’ Eve in a hall and over the radio. The Berlin Philharmonic left us a version that he recorded in 1928. Hearing the entire work goes beyond merely attending a performance or playing a recording as its opening of the Scherzo illustrates:


This way of making music interrupt the mundane by opening onto a higher plane of existence distinguishes Fried as a force who offers us musical epiphanies that can only result from one who remained an individual without succumbing to musical trends and societal pressure that try pressuring the arts to “make nice.”

Fried 7 1927 outdoors

William Faulkner stressed the urgency in safeguarding individuality, a necessary  reminder in our time of how easily it is lost through standardization and society being controlled by the media and corporations.




©Allan Evans 2016














Publish or Perish?

As a great deal of unknown recordings keep emerging by William Kapell,


one work risks being presented out of context and without  the objections it aroused in the pianist’s wife Dr. Anna Lou DeHavenon.

anna lou

DeHavenon had studied piano with Tarnowsky, Vladimir Horowitz’s teacher. Once we attended a concert of Indian ragas performed by the singer Pandit Jasraj and sitar-surbaharist Imrat Khan. Never in my life had I seen someone listen so intently, deeply immersing herself into every tone. I asked her afterwards if she ever had advised Kapell and she demurred, saying that she would mention details. They first met when she came backstage to congratulate him after a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and made a few observations about his playing that turned him inside-out, struck by her acute perception and beauty. A good idea of her musical insight can be gleaned from an interview with her in 1995:


Once you knew DeHavenon, you could never have enough time with her and luckily an interview about her work as an urban anthropologist may be seen:

Soon after their marriage, Kapell was ordered by the martinet conductor Fritz Reiner


to prepare Richard Strauss’ Burlesque for piano and orchestra. Not knowing the work and confident that his own choice of concerto would be accepted as a replacement, he ignored the request until receiving a phone call from Reiner, confirming their 1947 date with the Pittsburgh Symphony a week later. Realizing that Reiner meant business and there was no way out of playing the work, Kapell spent a traumatic week forcing himself to learn a work that was not in sync with his aims. After a Russian-heavy focus imposed on him by his teacher Olga Samaroff, Kapell sought to spend more time with Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and others. Reiner knew the composer and often performed his works, making him a good ally for the piece but having to play it without the laborious preparations he usually devoted to all details in every work he programmed, the stress made it into a career nightmare.

Dr DeHavenon witnessed and tried to manage her husband’s anguish during a week of musical misery. The performance was recorded onto two discs: one was donated by the family along with his archive to IPAM (Interational Piano Archive, University of Maryland), but only half the performance seemed to have survived. One day while searching her Kapell papers, DeHavenon phoned to say that the missing disc had turned up and I was welcome to it. Eager to hear this one-time experience, warts and all, IPAM loaned their second disc and luckily it coincided at a time when Arbiter’s Sonic Depth Technology had been developed to rescue and liberate the sounds embedded within mediocre privately pressed broadcast discs. As this restoration is exclusive to us, we think best to offer the entire performance in this format, as most engineers favor a quiet vinyl-like playback that evirates the sound’s fullness.


When playing in the best of circumstances, with a simpatico collaborator like Maria Stader,


Kapell breathes his musical grandeur. He and Stader offered six Schubert songs at the 1953 Prades Festival organized by Pablo Casals. This blossoming of his art makes it all the more tragic as belonging to his last year, one in which he planned more absorption with the classics and his concern to pioneer new music. We hear them in Schubert’s Im Frühling D.882 (In Spring), taken from the spring of Kapell’s life.


©Allan Evans 2016



Russian dreams lead to Debussy.


Whenever we try to snare Debussy his seductive oneiric sounds allow him to keep safely away. How subtle of him to compose and publish pieces that only reveal their titles after the last note expires, in parens, as if ashamed that his ether has imposed expectations.


Debussy absinthed his soul with Mallarmé and Baudelaire, hung out with the writer Huysmans


and other Decadents at the bookseller Bailly’s that lured many such as the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau


and his pupil Redon.


Their verbal interactions can only be dreamed of until their paths cross in one another’s works.

One primal Blues-era song projects American nostalgia for a lost mythical haunt: Jim Canaan’s saloon, a mecca in St. Louis immortalized by Robert Wilkins before his ordination proscribed earlier sinful singing.

Robert Wilkins


Keep to his French influences and you’ll only get so far as Debussy’s life changer struck in 1889 when Paris hosted its global Exposition. On the musical front came Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (painted by Repin) from St. Petersburg to conduct new Russian music.


Rimsky-Korsakov introduced works that would influence his future pupil Stravinsky, who would become acquainted with and influence Debussy. Rimsky’s spirit possessed musicians in Paris in works such as King Dodon on the Battlefield (from Le Coq d’Or Suite, conducted here by Dobrowen & the Philharmonia Orchestra.)


One of the pieces performed was the Polovetsian Dances (Bilibin: Justice of the Kievan Rus) by his colleague Borodin who sought to evoke pagan rites.


An early performance was captured in a Berlin studio with the local Staatsoper Orchestra led by Issay Dobrowen, c. 1928.



His name is no longer familiar as is a great admirer during Dobrowen’s Stockholm exile – a young stage assistant of Dobrowen’s who took part in their Mozart operas: Ingmar Bergmann (photo: Irving Penn)


Debussy heard two orchestral concerts that Rimsky-Korsakov presented and one can detect more than traces of the Borodin in his own Fêtes, an orchestral nocturne directed by Gabriel Pierné, a conductor he esteemed (Orchestre Colonne in 1929 on 78rpm shellac)



The greatest impact on Debussy was his discovery of Musorgsky (by Repin; portrait detail),

Mussorgsky by Repin.det

and one song in particular, By the River (played & transcribed by Vladimir Horowitz, 1947)


This overlooked work became a seed for his masterpiece The Engulfed Cathedral, played by Jacques Fevrier (seated), who knew Mme. Debussy and was in close contact with Ravel (standing).


fevrier ravel

Leaving behind the tangible reality for mythic and oneiric quests, Debussy composed a glimpse of the water nymph Ondine (played by Eduard Erdmann in Berlin, 1928).



The dream of Oenone,  a mountain nymph was to be part of the soundtrack to Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point.


The Pink Floyd’s organist and guitarist offered their subsumation of Debussy’s elusive Ondine.


Debussy also encountered Javanese music and dance at the East Indies pavilion in 1889 but that’s another trail to haunt and Rev. Wilkins’ legacy would later appear in the transformed modernist Debussy’s Minstrels and Golliwog’s Cakewalk.

Allan Evans ©2016














Fragments: a chain of threads

Fragments lead everywhere, usually to the unanticipated. Even our naming as Arbiter was the inevitable result of being irresistibly drawn into the arbiter Petronius’s Satyricon, a strew of incomplete episodes ending unresolved, like our pathetic grasp of history as a permanence but always in a constant overturning of the pecking order.


Sometimes we catch a waft of something as thrilling as it is fleeting and unattainable, such as festive music caught and captured over the Adriatic from a then-closed Albania:


In contrast is the American middle class’ angst in feeling left out as everyone else is busy having all the fun, with one’s only recourse lying in addictive consumption.


While some meditated on the errant Brad, a thrilling excitement hit New York in 1941 when the nineteen-year-old pianist William Kapell appeared with his debut solo recital.


Fragments made it through time and one offers his conclusion to Bach’s Fugue in C-sharp minor (Book I), a work he didn’t record later on but these moments open onto an already substantial artistry that would deepen for another dozen years.


In the mid 1930’s Max Fiedler’s remarkable conducting was carried over Germany’s airwaves. Pegged as a Brahms specialist, very few have attained his state of a Haydn set forth in Berlin for his final 45 seconds of the 88th symphony:



One voyeruistic fragment provoked our “featured image” as a backstage employee in Philadelphia dialed up Bell Labs who were trying to discover if a phone could transmit the music happening then on stage. Until recently, some phone lines echoed all the words and notes here we suffer from it as well since Rachmaninoff

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 4.12.22 PM

never allowed a single note from any of his concerts to ever be aired and here he’s caught magisterially laying down the final seven bars of Brahms’s Ballade Op. 10, No.4. . .


Along with Rachmaninoff’s official playing etched onto approved recordings, his compositions are usually obscured through a nostalgic cult-like worshipping they receive. What a startling contrast to happen upon a performer who exposes the internal visions of the composer’s Prelude in G, Op. 32, No.5, resurrecting lost feelings and their intangible existence. Years ago I’d receive a formal phone call annually from an elderly White Russian residing somewhere in a Siberian clime up north in Canada, beseeching me to seek out each and every surviving piano performance left by his adored Nikolai Orloff.

Orloff Sveresborg

He mainly emphasized that paying homage was a duty, to respect Orloff’s noble origins. His Romanoff-tinged nostalgic exhortations rang true when I fished out a paper reel of tape from the archive of a recording angel who had lived Taranto, Italy. He partially captured a 1954 Rome recital that bore a playing that proved to be quite noble. So now off to scramble and draw in more from Time’s magnetic web that leads to the essence of Orloff’s real life – one he lived on stage, as his studio playing is distracted, dragging his voltage lower.


©Allan Evans 2015

Russian Poets of the Piano

After completing a decade long Balinese project to retrieve and publish the lost 1928 recordings, I headed over to Paris to spend time with the pianist Henri Barda

who had recently played Brahms’s Op. 118 with a Chopin group in Brussels. His musical pianism is exemplary and inspiring and no one has approached his Ravel! A new path opened after seeing a painting at the Musée Orsay that led to my stumbling into Gustave Moreau’s home and studio across the river near Trinité, where Messiaen deputized as organist:



Back home with my head spinning from Barda, Moreau, Restaurant Lao-Vietchoucroute garni, and Le Maison du Mièl,  a New York piano festival offered a Scriabin lecture with brilliant playing and comments by Dmitry Rachmanov.

His music often remains a lesser priority for the multitude of Rachmaninoff lovers and we chatted about the way he receives adulation from nearly every pianist raised in Russia and the Ukraine: all seem to revere his music as a primal spiritual experience.

It provoked a desire to chart an expedition into Scriabin’s legacy and find possible directions that developed and emerged from him, Rachmaninoff, and the other fall-outs after the Soviet Union developed a new culture. Poetic playing characterized the best of Russia’s pianistic art before the Revolution, one that gave way to a harsh, athletic goal of industrial strength that dominates the background in Soviet playing and pedagogy. Let’s bypass them all to how hear earlier Russian masters convey a once-thriving elegance, poetry, and sung narrative that pervaded their 19th century’s aesthetic, one that cloyingly dissipated during their Silver Age, a parallel of Huysmans’s reaction to Moreau’s art. I urge you to skim the facts and attempts to place the players in any sort of constellation or order, rather to listen and hear it through their ears.

Scriabin left Russia to explore Theosophy in Switzerland. We haven’t a trace of his own playing, aside from inaccurate mechanical approximations of the player piano rolls he left. A South African business man residing in Russia could have lured Scriabin to record on his cylinder machine but didn’t. There are other Russians from Scriabin’s time (1872-1915) who knew him and his playing. A schoolmate of his in Zverev’s boarding stable was Konstantin Igumnov (1873-1948),


a pianist who knew Tchaikovsky, one who furtively arranged the visiting Henry Cowell to meet with colleagues and students in private and challenged the officials by arranging a concert for the young composer. Igumnov emanates fresh air amidst the stale Stalin regime by playing  Scriabin’s Poème, Op. 32, No.1 ( recorded in 1935.) Its flirtatious vagueness slyly eludes the obligatory confinement assigned to a basic melody expected by the reigning Socialist Realism:


Slightly younger, Elena Bekman-Shcherbina premiered works by Scriabin and received his approval. Her artistry was on a higher level than the heralded male colleagues who were regularly summoned into recording studios. On the cosmic scale, her  too few examples place her art above the others. Her poetic, colorful touch remained up to the end of her life. Bekman-Shcherbina (1882-1951) played this same Poème one year before her life was over:




Another young man found acceptance from Scriabin and left us four sonatas. Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962) 6_313x

had been taught by Alexander Goldenweiser (1875-1961),


who had spent considerable time in Tolstoy’s company (photo: Goldenweiser on the far right) and left a book of their discussions that was abridged in Virginia Woolf’s collaborative English translation. Feinberg composed concertos, piano solos, and songs, imbuing his playing of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 from a composer’s vantage:


A decade younger, Alexander Kamensky (1900-1952)


was a contemporary of Shostakovich and Sofronitsky. Again we hear someone playing too poetically to have been idolized in the Soviet culture, remaining an important teacher and dying young. Two Scriabin preludes (Op. 16, No. 4 and Op. 27, No.2) give an idea of his individuality and its roots:


If we reach further back in time, the first sounds of a master pianist come from the Odessan Vladimir de Pachmann (1848-1933).

Pachmann NY 1890s?

A great deal of information on him and an interview with his son Leonid are in our Music Resource Library. Pachmann knew Liszt and had lessons from Vera Kologrivoff Rubio, Chopin’s last assistant. His playing represents a mixture of mid 19th century styles, heavily influenced by the bel canto style that Chopin incorporated into his works in an improvisatory way. Pachmann had allowed only the second half of his 1912 recording of Chopin’s Ballade in A-flat, Op. 47 to be published. With earlier playback of ancient shellacs, critics and listeners downgraded Pachmann’s artistry by basing their opinions on inadequate restoration. New technology allows us to experience the shading, tone color, and projection not believed to have existed on acoustic pre-mic recordings:


Some twenty years younger than Pachmann, we are drawn to Vassily Sapellnikoff (1867-1941),


who performed under Tchaikovsky’s baton. He fled the Bolsheviks by swimming across a river to safety in Poland and spent his final years in San Remo, Italy. Instructed by Liszt’s pupil Sophie Menter, who once brought him to meet her teacher, Sapellnikoff portrays the melodic emphasis that was exploited by Liszt’s transcription of the Schumann Frühlingsnacht for piano solo, played by Sapellnikoff for an acoustic horn around 1922 in London:


Maria Safonoff,

All Reproduction Rights Are Reserved And Restricted

daughter of an influential teacher and conductor Vasily Safonoff, escaped to Italy after the Russian revolution and lived in New York until c. 1990-1. She once described how once while her father was napping, Scriabin eased over to the piano and played his soft his Prelude in D-flat from Op. 11 and how her father commented that he was being transported from his dream to a waking one. An idea of her art is heard in Chopin’s Etude in A-flat, Op. 25, No.1:


Back to Rachmaninoff (1873-1943): was his playing shaped by such influences? Today his melodies are made prominent, whereas we hear him skirting their obviousness to have them challenged by the surrounding figuration, an early footstep towards Modernism and Deconstruction.

The composer was a startling interpreter of his works and evoked transformations through his playing of other composers. Felix Salzer, a music theorist, was a Viennese pupil Schenker and member of the Wittgenstein family. Once I asked this severe scholar which pianist had impressed him the most and he shouted out Rachmaninoff!!


“He walked out onto the stage, so stern, his severe haircut and expression, and quietly sat down and out came such sound!”  Few have experienced his own playing since most restorations of his recordings are compromised to resemble the quiet playback of vinyl, destroying nuances and balance in the process. With new technology we can experience his vivid sound in his Humoresque, and hear how it influenced the younger Vladimir Horowitz:


If you wish to hear how piano-rolls capture a performance like the one above, try this:


Prokofiev (1892-1953) arrived shortly after Rachmaninoff’s launch. His musical training came from Esipova, a Leschetizky pupil.

A video finds him playing at his cosy dacha, using a body language common to Paderewski and Moiseiwitsch, his musical colleagues. Prokofiev’s works tend to be harsh but his older way of shaping tone underlines the Suggestions Diaboliques:


As Igor Stravinsky became the dominant Russian figure, his son Soulima Stravinsky (1910-1994) arose as an early champion of his father’s music which he played as his native tongue.


He was instructed by Isidor Philipp, a central teacher and protagonist in the Parisian scene. This combination of Russian roots with French training left a precedence that shaped a model that many would later follow. Two of his father’s early Etudes, the pianist’s first solo recordings made in the Paris of 1939  capture the brooding moods and Silver Age forms.


Another Russian expat was Nikita Magaloff (1912-1992),


who resided primarily in Switzerland, above Lac Leman in Clarens where Stravinsky composed his Rite of Spring. Also a student of Philipp’s, Magaloff inherited several traditions from partnering his father-in-law Joseph Szigeti who had worked with Bartók and from contact with Stravinsky and the practiced aesthetic of his time for Russians to align themselves to emerge by expanding their Francophilia. One evening he gave an impressive Chopin recital in New York, playing the Ballades and Scherzi, of which we hear the Fourth Scherzo in E, Op. 54:


Perhaps the catalyst behind the piano being played more mechanically came from a Polish pianist who generated hysteria on Russian musical stages in part due to his eschewing of the 19th century’s focus on lyricism by favoring a more compartmentalized approach. Josef Hofmann (1876-1957)


had given years of recitals in pre-Soviet Russia and was advised in Dresden by Anton Rubinstein, the pioneering founder of Russia’s absorption of the piano. A disc made in 1916 of a tarantella in Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli exhibits a tendency that led to the dominance by the Moscow Conservatory’s mannerisms of profiling high and low notes with the middle material a mush:


Rachmaninoff admired how Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963)


played his music. A striking contrast separates Rachmaninoff’s avoiding overt themes from Moiseiwitch’s drawing them into a more emphatically melodic and streamlined strand. Through him and others, a 19th century background has been remade into an objective linearity. One hears it happening in Ravel’s Toccata‘ from the Tombeau de Couperin as frenetic repetitions and jagged figuration are smoothed into a tightened one-dimensional foray. This phase comes as a turning point that would either compel pianists to choose looking backward or attempt a redefining of the piano into a percussive or ever-more conceptual instrument: the 19th century’s feasting was over and done with.


Allan Evans ©2015




Nicholas Milroy (Etelka Freund’s son) in action


A fascinating, erudite polyglot, Nicholas Milroy (1911-2000) saved the recorded and written legacy of his mother Etelka Freund (1879-1977), a pianist who was privately taught by Brahms, esteemed by Busoni, and an early friend and champion of Bartók. When the Baldwin Piano Company learned that their artist Bartók was ill, they requested he return the piano they gave him as one of their featured performers. Milroy learned about him being without an instrument and within twenty-four hours, a modest upright appeared at Bartók’s West 57th Street apartment. Milroy never mentioned this: it was Bartók’s son Peter who related it in his remarkable memoir “My Father”

Milroy was an intelligence officer for the U.S. Army during World War II and afterwards served as a diplomat in Morocco, Burundi and elsewhere. A paper of his “office work” came to light some time ago and is worth a glance.

<< LITERATURE OF THE HOLOCAUST Search for a (single) word: FILREIS HOME | NEWS ———————————————————————— U.S. report details close Swiss-German war ties —————————————————————— From: (Reuter / William Scally)

Subject: U.S. report details close Swiss-German war ties

Date: Tue, 17 Dec 1996 19:20:56 PST WASHINGTON (Reuter)

– An official U.S. report written after the second World War and made public Tuesday detailed economic and financial penetration of Switzerland by Nazi Germany that increased during the war years.

The report, newly unearthed in the U.S. National Archives, said gold deposits in Swiss banks doubled between 1939 and 1945, on gold looted by the Nazi regime.

It said Swiss industry was almost totally geared to the German war effort; Swiss banks were used for unfettered financial transactions by German financial interests, and Swiss railroads were “forced into the service of the German war economy.”

The 1945-46 report by State Department official Nicholas Milroy was released by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, a New York Republican who has taken the lead in demanding that looted money in Swiss banks deposited by Jewish Holocaust victims be handed over to their families.

Amid pages of dry statistics, the report made these points:

* “Swiss industrial manpower, as well as her production facilities and products, were almost totally geared to the German demand.”

* “Swiss banks served as a safe haven for all kinds of deposits belonging to German firms and individuals … It is obvious that the tremendous amount of gold transferred by banks, firms and individuals to Switzerland could only result from looting.”

* Swiss machine factories were frequently paid twice or overpaid by German firms or clients so that new German-owned factories could be established under Swiss names or a credit balance created that could be used to deliver products years later.

In releasing the report, D’Amato said: “Switzerland was obviously not the neutral country they would wish the world to believe they were during the second World War.”

The report noted that German influence in Switzerland resulted from geographical and ethnic factors and Switzerland’s dependence on Germany for raw materials.

It showed that in 1939 Swiss imports from Germany totalled 440 million Swiss francs, or 23.31 percent of total imports. In 1942, at the height of the war, these imports rose to 660 million francs, or 32.22 percent.

In 1939 Swiss exports to Germany totaled 192 million francs, or 14.76 percent, growing to 656 million francs or 41.72 percent in 1942.

Swiss gold reserves totalled 2.374 billion Swiss francs in 1939. By March 1945 this these had risen to 4.672 billion, due almost entirely to German deposits, the report said.

It said the German government and business used Swiss professional secrecy laws to cloak their business interests around the world by creating a chain of holding companies in various neutral countries.

Although Swiss assets were blocked in the United States and Britain, Swiss banks operated freely in other countries ”allowing the financial transactions between the cloaks of various German interests to take place unhampered,” the report said.

It added: “Apart from these transactions aiding the German war economy and German interests in general, the Swiss banks served as a safe-haven for all kinds of deposits belonging to German firms and individuals”. —————————————–

When we met in 1980, Milroy was reluctant to allow the radio broadcasts he recorded of his mother to be published, concerned about an intrusive announcer truncating one work, and some occasional wrong notes during the live broadcasts. For more than a year we collaborated weekly to translate the memoirs of Uncle Robert, Etelka’s older brother who had studied piano with Moscheles, Tausig, and Liszt. Brahms was in his hands when Freund and two other pals of the composer’s brought him to Italy on his 60th birthday. Freund taught in Zurich for many years and retired to Budapest where Bartók often visited with new compositions and wax cylinders he recorded in villages. A future entry on the Music Resource Center will contain our full translation of Robert Freund’s memoirs.

Milroy eventually allowed Etelka Freund’s performances to appear on CD: two works she learned from the composer are on our Brahms compilation.

To get an idea of his character, one may listen in to Milroy’s dark deep voice, one that graced Radio Free Europe’s Hungarian network during the Cold War, his sole appearance on New York radio to discuss his family’s musical life:

Sound Unchained from Time


Debussy and Stravinsky. photo by Erik Satie
Debussy and Stravinsky. photo by Erik Satie

Speed breaks the sound barrier but sound breaks the time barrier. Chronology, this heap of names, dates, all pulled together in some apparent order, is intended to vaunt some sort of alleged progress. Luckily, music finally benefits from a technology that reaches into the aether to pull out living pasts from the stream of historic sound, a Heaven and Hell of sonic existences.

Whenever a composer starts creating and playing masterpieces, any imposed pecking-order within History gets irreversibly shuffled. One action mirrors others as lost arcana reappear in new, anachronistic, radical, delectable dangers that cast conventional cliche believers overboard.

Working in a quiet atmosphere at home my ongoing research is often diverted with by a force of nature sent to earth by some divinity – Romolo – whose remonstrations take precedence.


In any remaining free moments I proceed to explore composers in the act of enlivening their paper trail. The case of Béla Bartók has been in the forefront since I discovered his recordings as a pianist. Bartók is now served up as a paprika’ed Prokofiev seasoned with industrial sauce.

To hear Bartók in 1929 seated before a mic in a Budapest studio, recording his Romanian dance, a work that he experienced in situ, projects how traditional folk music unchained him from the bonds of socially acceptable musical development based primarily on the Germanic hegemony:



Almost a decade before Bartók, Sergei Rachmaninoff came into the preparation of a new century that would dissipate and destroy the last phases of his origins. Rather than wax nostalgic, he set up a style that injected elements from his past into a revamp that tended to denounce prominent melodies, flitting them into a vaporous vagary enlivened through harsh accents and lighting fast flashes in a steely color. Like Bartók’s ongoing mechanization, Rachmaninoff becomes sentimentalized by performers who wring out each and every potentially melodic gesture with utter sincerity, unaware of how Rachmaninoff’s uniqueness lay in abandoning thematic narrative. A well know Etude is played here by the composer. Melody lovers will experience unfamiliar sonic conceptions in his tone (closely imitated by Horowitz) and an approach that slights potentially lyrical lines. Most attempts to restore Rachmaninoff’s legacy end up sounding boxed into a sanitized cramped compromise. Here he is, once again, after a long time’s absence:

l. to r.: Rachmaninoff, Walt Disney (American entrepeneur), Vladimir Horowitz. [n.b. tell-tale body language]



A decade older than Rachmaninoff, Claude Debussy’s ethos surfaced by destroyed any lingering dependency on the eclipsed, passé Wagner; his approach was influenced by art and literature of the time, mores through a serendipitous exposure to Asian music and decadence. In later years Debussy metamorphosed into a different composer, one who brings stress to musicians grasping hard to surmount his change in a struggle to purvey the earlier smooth Impressionistic attire into a new craggy terrain. Debussy obliged by recording paper rolls via the inaccurate mechanical player-piano but his genuine pianism survives on four songs when he accompanied Mary Garden on an upright piano in 1903 at Paris’s branch of the Gramophone & Typewrite Co.

Debussy with Satie as guest
Debussy with Satie as guest



The lucidity and relief in Debussy’s touch casts doubts on the atmospheric Turneresque blur of the legendary Debussy specialist Walter Gieseking: nasal adenoids intruded on permitting a clearer sonic reproduction, therefore compelling his producer Walter Legge to make awkward mic adjustments decisions, creating an accepted misty mis-conception of Debussy’s music.

Debussy never set foot in Spain but a Catalonian composer born a few years before him dug deeper into outsider music. Although Debussy had limited acquaintance with Javanese music and once hosted a veena player in his home, Isaac Albeniz thrived alongside flamenco culture. Albeniz died young and obese, and any hopes to unlock his interaction with non-Germanic music and how it was absorbed into his innovative spirit seemed hopeless until the discovery that a Catalan-coast resort owner had bought Edison’s newly invented recording machine and urged Albeniz to sit before the horn. He improvised three works (in 1903) and anyone familiar with his composed pieces will hear something equal to his finest efforts.  (photo with his Italian pupil Clara Sansoni, who recorded several of his works):

Albeniz Sansoni



Before Debussy, Norway produced Edvard Grieg in 1843. His full-fledged Germanic training was successfully exploited to incorporate the folk traditions of his native realm into his creations. Grieg too sat at the same Parisian upright that Debussy played on while touring throughout Europe in 1903 and left twenty minutes of his own music. Note how Grieg’s Minuet from an early piano sonata bears a folk rhythm that is not indicated in his printed music, and  how his performance bears an energy and freshness that engage him long beyond the act of creation. Grieg’s irregular rhythm incites with a clue for playing Chopin’s Mazurkas:


One year younger than Grieg, organist and composer Charles-Marie Widor exulted in the innovations achieved by the builder Cavaille-Coll, one that led to symphonies being composed for solo organ. Widor commanded Paris’s Ste. Sulpice and was recorded playing excerpts from his works at age 89. One movement from Widor’s Ninth Symphony shows how space influences coloring and density as the interior’s resonance flirts with his breathing mystical phrases:




As folk music and Modernism destroyed the Nineteenth Century for good, Widor and others who explored the organ gave a base to Olivier Messiaen, a spiritual seeker who employed Indian raga scales and rhythms, chant, and birdsong. His first published organ work, Celestial Banquet, was one among many recorded by him in the summer of 1956. New technology helps restore the organ’s patina that was kept dim by record labels’s industrial standards:






The past collides in the present as the present is in the past of the future so presently, Yoshi Wada performs tonight:

Inspired composers at large capture our attention:

Arnold Dreyblatt

David Borden

Allan Evans ©2014











James Gurley’s unchained guitar


Janis Joplin abandoned Port Arthur, Texas and first emerged in San Francisco. Her singing came as a shock but also one feared that her straining would permanently tear up her vocalizing. A sword of Damocles at her throat. More exciting than her presence were the rare and unchained guitar solos offered by James Gurley.


Rare interview with James Gurley

The guitar’s  lines fight and soar over a steady pulse, creating remarkable tension, a liberation from being earth-bound, unpredictable, nuanced.


Outside the condensing studio limitations their band played for dances with light shows adding to the stimulation. Many of their early concerts were recorded at both Fillmore auditoriums (San Francisco & New York) in 1968. The following year Joplin dropped the band to get a more commerical and arranged sound, gaining popularity but losing her edge. A great part of her early bravura was due to Gurley’s presence as an sonic provocateur. Minus his shrill distortion her voice settled into a caricature of her former glory as the career propelled her into gaining greater recognition.

recording Summertime

Gurley had a more extended Summertime solo when his duet finished in one concert at 0:33:


One work that had a raw foray was omitted from their stunning debut album. Most groups tank with their second, the third being a live compilation and dissolution. Big Brother with Janis lasted for only one project. Their iconic cover by R. Crumb opened up endless suggestions and speculation.




His career was sustained with a role by part in revival bands. A few years before he died days before his 70th birthday in 2009, Gurley offered these words about the role of creation in life and art.


Gurley was a rare example of free forms emerging in a progressive experimental music that had a short lifespan yet profoundly influenced and infected anyone within listening range. The support and expression of each and every note bring to mind the sound heard by masters of the raga. Whereas the Beatles and others added sitars like seasoning to their music, Gurley grabbed pitches by the jugular and brought them in as the music’s blood .

Allan Evans ©2014

update: extended solo with Big Brother, 1967 (h/t Stefano!)