SCHUMANN:  Kinderszenen, Op. 15.  BRAHMS:  Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24. Intermezzo in C, Op. 119 No. 3.  Rhapsody in E Flat, Op. 119 No. 4.  MUSSORGSKY:  Pictures at an Exhibition.
Benno Moiseiwitsch, pianist

NAXOS 8.110668 (B) (ADD) TT:  77:11

HUMMEL:  Rondo in E Flat, Op. 11.  BEETHOVEN:  Andante favori.  WEBER-TAUSIG:  Rondo Brillante (Invitation to the Dance). SCHUMANN:  Grillen.  Romance No. 2.  Vogel als prophet.  MENDELSSOHN:  Scherzo in E Minor, Op. 16 No. 2.  Songs without Words Nos. 3 and 22.  HENSELT:  Etude caractéristique, Op. 2 No. 6.  LISZT:  Concert Etude No. 2 in F Minor.  Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.  Liebesträume No. 3.  WAGNER-LISZT:  Isolde's Liebestod.  Tannhäuser Overture.
Benno Moiseiwitsch, pianist

NAXOS 8.110669 (B) (ADD) TT:  78:09

TCHAIKOVSKY:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 44.
Benno Moiseiwitsch, pianist; Philharmonia Orch (No. 1); Liverpool Philharmonic Orch (No. 2)/George Weldon, cond.

NAXOS 8.110655 (B) (ADD) TT:  67:52

Many of Moiseiwitsch's recordings have been released on CD, but here we have the first three volumes in a new series superbly transferred by Ward Marston—and at budget price. The Russian pianist, born in Odessa in 1890, won the Rubinstein Prize for his performances of Schumann when only nine years old and then studied with Theodore Leschetitsky. His British debut was in 1908; he became a British citizen in 1937 and signed a recording contract with HMV/EMI remaining with the organization until 1960, just three years before his death. Although Moiseiwitsch toured extensively throughout the world, the company considered him a "domestic" rather than "international" artist; they issued his recordings on their less-expensive label often with less than the highest quality shellac. In spite of this, his distinctive tonal shading and style were reasonably well captured by the engineers.  Although Moiseiwitsch had a formidable technique, he always emphasized musical values over bravura.  He had a particular rapport with music of Rachmaninoff (who was a close friend) and recorded the Concerto No. 1 in December 1948 with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent, and the Concerto No. 2 and Paganini Rhapsody twice.  The Concerto No. 2 was recorded in November 1937 with the London Philharmonic conducted by Walter Goehr, the Rhapsody with the same orchestra directed by Basil Cameron in December 1938. Both works were again recorded in August 1955 with the Philharmonia and conductor Hugo Rignold.  As he was considered to be a specialist in music of Rachmaninoff, it seems odd he didn't record the Third and Fourth concertos—perhaps it was felt there was too much competition from the composer's own recordings made 1940-41.

The first two CDs contain a wide range of solo works highlighted by a dazzling account of Liszt's F Minor Concert Etude and the Liszt transcription of Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture.  All recording dates are given, indicating that the latter was recorded during three sessions ranging from January 28 through March 24, 1938; several other works also were done over extended sessions. It seems strange that neither of these CDs contains one of Moiseiwitsch's finest recordings, the Rachmaninoff transcription of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This recording was made in one take as an afterthought after a session March 17, 1939—and is surely among the finest piano recordings ever made. 

The third CD couples Tchaikovsky's first two concertos, both conducted by George Weldon with the newly-formed Philharmonia Orchestra for the First, the London Philharmonic for the Second, although the latter recording was to have been conducted by Malcolm Sargent, who at one time studied piano with Moiseiwitsch.  The Concerto No. 2 (on the label incorrectly identified as being in "G minor") was recorded in two sessions, August 29, 1944 and October 19, 1944.  The abbreviated Siloti edition is used (as was the custom of the time), so the second movement takes but 7:19.This interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 took nine 78rpm sides instead of the usual eight; the same composer's Chanson triste, also included on this CD, was the filler. Moiseiwitsch's somewhat staid approach underplays the virtuoso aspects of the first concerto, he makes a few additions to the score—and technically is not as his best.  He is far more successful in the second concerto, a work he championed in the '40s, but you won't find the fireworks heard in the famous Emil Gilels live Leningrad performance.

Marston's transfers are, as usual, magnificent, and the price is low.  Naxos is to be commended for their high quality production of these CDs:  Volume I has separate tracks not only for each movement of Kinderszenen and Pictures but tracks as well for each of the Brahms variations, for a total of 57 tracks. I look forward to future releases in the series, one of which will include Moiseiwitsch's first recordings of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 and Paganini Rhapsody, and the Concerto No. 1.

R.E.B. (Feb. 2002)