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Play Tchaikovsky 2nd mvt excerpt
Mark Hambourg's only known Piano Concerto recordings
Star pianist toasted by Brahms, heralded "the greatest talent of his time" by Busoni
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 [notes / score] Malcolm Sargent · London Symphony Orchestra* Recorded 13th - 14th November, 1929 in Kingsway Hall, London
Matrix nos.: Cc 17876-2, 17873-1, 17874-2, 17875-2, 17877-2, 17878-2, 17879-1 and 17880-2
First issued on HMV C 1865 through 1868 *Although the orchestra was originally credited simply as "Symphony Orchestra", these sessions are listed in HMV’s contractual account with the LSO. To preserve the LSO’s “Red Label” status, recordings made in 1929-30 issued on the cheaper Plum Label concealed the orchestra’s identity.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 [notes / score] Landon Ronald · Royal Albert Hall Orchestra Recorded 28th September, 1926 in Kingsway Hall, London
Matrix nos.: CR 736-1A, 737-1, 738-1A, 739-1, 732-2A, 733-1A, 734-1A and 735-1A
First issued on HMV D 1130 through 1133 Mark Hambourg (Blüthner piano)
Mark Hambourg shared several commonalities with his younger friend (and fellow Savage Club member and bridge partner), Benno Moiseiwitsch. Both were pianists in the grand Romantic tradition who came from Russian territory, settled in England, and recorded extensively for HMV from the acoustic period onward (where they were both relegated to the cheaper black – later plum – label releases reserved for popular domestic artists). Their repertoire overlapped a good deal; indeed, both of them recorded the Beethoven C Minor concerto with Sargent (who also set it down on disc with another Leschetizky pupil, Artur Schnabel).
But while Moiseiwitsch has remained familiar to record collectors over the years, Hambourg seems a figure from a distant past. Part of this is certainly due to the fact that while Moiseiwitsch recorded almost up to the time of his death in 1963, even leaving several stereo LP recordings, Hambourg, who predeceased him by only three years, made his last commercial 78 rpm disc in 1935.
The present release couples the only two concerto recordings Hambourg made. The Tchaikovsky is of particular interest in that it has never appeared in an LP or CD transfer. The first electrical recording of the work, it suffers from a too-distant recording perspective and some occasionally slapdash accompaniment (the first side in particular really should have been redone). But it preserves some Romantic-era touches that are simply not heard today, such as the octave-higher echoing Hambourg interpolates in the first movement cadenza (Track 4, 15:02 – 15:18) and the slow, dreamlike tempo in which the second movement waltz episode is taken (starting at 3:35 in Track 5).
As neither recording came out on particularly quiet shellac, the sources used for the present transfers were British HMVs for the Beethoven and American Victor “Orthophonic” pressings for the Tchaikovsky.
P.S. Mark added in an e-mail just prior to release: "For the demo track for the Hambourg, I was thinking that maybe the latter half of the second movement of the Tchaikovsky (Track 5, from 3:12 on to the end of the track) would be good, in that it highlights an approach to the middle section of the movement that I've heard in no other performance."
Mark Hambourg (Russian: Марк Михайлович Гамбург, 1 June 1879 – 26 August 1960) was a distinguished Russian-British concert pianist, among the most famous of his age.
Mark Hambourg was the eldest son of the pianist Michael Hambourg (a pupil of Anton Rubinstein), and was brother of the cellist Boris Hambourg and the violinist Jan Hambourg (with whom he played in chamber ensemble as the Hambourg Trio), and of the musical organiser Clement Hambourg (b. 1900). His father was principal of the Voronezh Conservatory, and later a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, so that Mark continued his studies with his father even when he attended that academy.
The family moved to London in 1889, as refugees from the Tsarist regime. There, having been heard by Paderewski, Mark made a debut at the old Princes Hall in July 1890. This was a success, and there was another concert there, and a tour of the provinces. The family was too poor to turn down these opportunities, though they would gladly have protected the boy from public life. As a child he was billed as Max Hambourg. He was invited into the circle of the painter Felix Moscheles (son of the pianist Ignaz Moscheles), in London, where on Sundays he often met Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry and others. It was in this period that he became fed up with little old ladies wanting to kiss him, and permitted them to do so only in exchange for a large box of chocolates. In 1890 Shaw, seeing him play, felt that the Lyric Theatre was merely exploiting children, but late in 1891 he was admiring his performance of Bach at the Steinway Hall and feeling that, with suitable training, 'this Russian lad might astonish the world some day.'
Sponsored largely by Paderewski, he was sent to study under Theodor Leschetitzky in Vienna for three years, arriving there in autumn 1891. There he won the Liszt Scholarship of 500 marks, and made a large number of friends among the artistic circles of Vienna. He made his first appearance as an adult pianist in early 1895, playing Chopin's Concerto No. 1 in E minor under the baton of Hans Richter, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Then, while still a student with Leschetizky, he stood in at short notice (on his master's recommendation) to play Liszt's Hungarian Fantasia under Felix Weingartner, in place of Sophie Menter, who was indisposed. The audience, at first disappointed, was completely won over, and at the banquet which followed, Brahms himself proposed the toast to the young pianist.
England, and touring
In London in 1895 Henry J. Wood conducted a concert at St James's Hall in which Hambourg played three piano concerti. According to Wood, his appearance and technique were compared to that of Anton Rubinstein, and Ferruccio Busoni later told Wood that Hambourg's was then the greatest talent of the time.
In 1895 he began his first world tour (aged 16), beginning with Australia, where (Sydney) he was asked to prolong his stay by six weeks. Returning to London he deputized for Paderewski at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert playing Anton Rubinstein's Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor. He first appeared in Paris in 1896, and after that in Brussels and Berlin. He went to the United States in autumn 1898, making his New York debut under William Gericke with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and going on to tour the States. He then returned to London, and in 1901 made his first appearances at the Queen's HallProms under Henry Wood. Over the next four years he made another American tour and made visits to Poland, Russia and Germany. (He had met Lenin through Felix Moscheles in London in 1900). In 1906 he made a month-long concert visit to South Africa, taking his own piano by precarious means across the Veldt to one remote location. He first toured in Canada in 1909.
At the outbreak of World War I parts of the press circulated the scurrilous rumour that he was German, obliging him to prove his Russian origin and to show that he had been naturalized British for over twenty years. He won damages from the London Mail in court. Soon afterwards he made another visit to America, and narrowly escaped making the return journey on the fateful last voyage of the RMS Lusitania. On his return to London he gave recitals at the Aeolian Hall, of early English music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, learning it by memory from the manuscript itself as the German Breitkopf edition was unavailable. He gave many concerts of classics during the war at the London Coliseum.
Hambourg's career survived World War I and he remained a very famous performer throughout the 1920s and 1930s. After the war he again took up his programme of world touring, visiting France, South Africa and Canada, and making regular provincial tours in Britain, and he made a further world tour before 1924.
Mark Hambourg recorded for HMV, and cut his first records in 1909. He can be seen in action as the down-and-out pianist nicknamed 'Chopin' in film-maker John Baxter's 1941 movie The Common Touch.
He married the violinist Dorothea Muir Mackenzie, and was father of the pianist Michal Hambourg (1919-2004) (see link), with whom he sometimes performed piano duos, and of Nadine Hambourg Marshall.
How to Become a Pianist (C. Arthur Pearson, London 1922); and as How to Play the Piano (George H. Doran, New York 1922).
From Piano to Forte (Cassell, London 1931).
The Eighth Octave (Williams & Norgate, London 1951).