D’Albert is the subject of two biographies (see Bibliography) which account for the details of his existence. A fascinating and atypical account of his position as a musical seer is present in Paul RoÎs’ book . D’Albert is portrayed as having a mystical link to Beethoven’s and Liszt’s spirituality. One wonders how true RoÎs is, or whether he fantasizes over the impact D’Albert made. D’Albert avoided practicing as he reached his forties in order to become a prominent opera composer. Thus many of his discs are carelessly played. But among them lie several extraordinary musical experiences: his two recordings of his teacher Liszt’s Au Bord d’une Source are important for their exquisite beauty and poetry, and for using the pedal nearly to the point of saturation. They are uncommon readings and possibly closer to Liszt’s own playing than any other recording of the work extant. Known as a Beethoven player, he partners the violinist Andreas Weissgerber in the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Sonata #5. One hears his strength, intellectual command and identification with Beethoven taken to an uncanny degree. A movement from the Fifth Beethoven Piano Concerto, played over the radio a year before his death, indicates reduced powers yet hints at a bold unfettered conception that listeners must mentally reconstruct. As bad as piano rolls are, and they are usually awful and inaccurate, D’Albert’s roll of Liszt’s B minor Sonata reveals interesting tempi relations and a fine conception. As the record companies were and often still are small-minded, D’Albert recorded only miniatures and left no large scale work. His performances of the final two Schubert Impromptus from Op.142 display some of his best playing, albeit under the worst conditions: a sterile studio atmosphere in which a wrong note meant more than a right conception.
© Allan Evans, 1996