SPIVAKOVSKY Bach to Bloch, Volume 1 (1955-67) - PAKM065

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SPIVAKOVSKY Bach to Bloch, Volume 1 (1955-67) - PAKM065

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BACH-LISZT The Great Organ Fantasy & Fugue in G Minor BWV 542
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 21 in C Major Op. 53 (Waldstein)
CHOPIN Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op. 23
BRAHMS Romanze in F Major Op. 118 No. 5
DEBUSSY Prelude Bk. 1 No. 7, Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest
DEBUSSY Prelude Bk. 1 No. 12, Minstrels
KABALEVSKY Sonata No. 3 in F Major Op. 46

Recorded 1955-1967
Duration 70:25

Jascha Spivakovsky, piano

This set contains the following albums:

Introducing Jascha Spivakovsky (1896-1970), "One of the greatest pianists of our time"

First solo piano release from a brilliant pianist who never recorded commercially

“Back in Russia when I was four years old, my mother dragged me through
twenty feet deep to hear an outstanding prodigy. YOU were that prodigy.”

Vladimir Horowitz, 1948

“The sensation of London. At the last evening concert in the Albert Hall it is estimated that
3,000 people were unable to gain admission, and there were scenes of wild enthusiasm.”

The Mercury

“Supreme mastery of the instrument and brilliant technique [and] that rarer quality to be described only as soul …
much as I want to hear Cortot, I want to 
hear Spivakovsky again still more”
Dover Express

Producing this first volume of recordings by the pianist Jascha Spivakovsky has been something of a global endeavour. Co-ordinated by Spivakovsky's grandson, Eden Spivakovsky initially from Singapore, now in Australia, with transfers overseen by Spivakovsky's son, Michael at a renowned mastering studio in Melbourne, Australia, the choices for this volume were then sent to me in France for audio restoration and remastering.

After much deliberation, this first volume concentrates on Jascha Spivakovsky's solo work - later volumes will include concerto and chamber music, the latter alongside Jascha's renowned violinist brother, Tossy Spivakovsky, and will delve further into the past. Most of the present recordings were made by Jascha during rehearsals for concerts and broadcasts in Australia in the 1960s, and were recorded by Michael Spivakovsky onto a mono Tandberg reel-to-reel tape recorder using a standard-issue microphone. They were not therefore intended for release, and it has been my task to elevate the quality of the recordings to a standard which not only is acceptable to modern listeners but also does full justice to Jascha Spivakovsky himself.

Using the most up-to-date audio restoration and remastering software, I've been able to correct pitch anomalies, compensate for the tonal inaccuracies of the microphone, eliminate electrical hum, greatly diminish tape hiss, and digitally "rehouse" Jascha in one of the more intimate concert halls at Santa Cecilia, Rome, renowned for fine musical acoustics which complement the piano's tone, without introducing a wash of unnatural reverberation.

This page can only serve as an introduction to the incredible musical story of Jascha Spivakovsky - for a fuller picture I strongly recommend you visit www.jascha.com and immerse yourself in an amazing musical voyage of discovery. As Damian Thompson of The Spectator wrote to me a few days ago, in response to first hearing Jascha Spivakovsky: "Greatest pianist I've never heard of? More like one of the greatest pianists I've heard."

Andrew Rose

  • BACH-LISZT The Great Organ Fantasy & Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542
    Recorded Melbourne, November 1963

  • BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 21 in C Major Op. 53 (Waldstein)
    Recorded Melbourne, around October 1967

  • CHOPIN Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op. 23
    Recorded Melbourne, December 1966

  • BRAHMS Romanze in F Major Op. 118 No. 5
    Recorded  c. October/November 1955 (location unknown)

  • DEBUSSY Prelude Bk. 1 No. 7, Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest
    Recorded  c. February/March 1958 (location unknown) 

  • DEBUSSY Prelude Bk. 1 No. 12, Minstrels
    Recorded  c. February/March 1958 (location unknown)

  • KABALEVSKY Sonata No. 3 in F Major Op. 46
    Recorded Melbourne, c. May/June 1962

Jascha Spivakovsky, piano

Private recordings were made in Jascha Spivakovsky's music room in Melbourne, Australia by Michael Spivakovsky
Transfers by Crystal Mastering, Melbourne, Australia
Restoration and XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio

Jascha Spivakovsky

Bach to Bloch: Volume 1

Bach-Liszt Organ Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor BWV 542

Jascha Spivakovsky’s November 1963 recording of the Bach-Liszt Organ Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor BWV 542 is a grand and noble interpretation filled with passion and insight. The pianist had opened recitals with this work as early as 1922, and in this performance four decades later he presents Bach’s musical brilliance and the myriad possibilities for playing his polyphonic compositions on the piano. Liszt’s transcription enables a broader capacity of tonal and dynamic variance than the organ for which the work was originally written and Spivakovsky exploits a rich array of sonorities to express the dramatic and emotional content of Bach’s oeuvre. He additionally reveals the complex structure of Bach’s contrapuntal writing with the clarity of an architectural blueprint through his transparent voicing and precise articulation, using variation of touch, attack, dynamics, and pedaling to project the themes, counter-themes, and bridge passages in accordance with their musical significance. The mood is grand, reverent, and noble in the Prelude, musical phrases being carefully shaped and climaxes attentively built (Spivakovsky avoids peaking too quickly in order to increase tension throughout this section). The Fugue has a more ebullient atmosphere, being despatched with crisply-defined touch, transparent and consistent voicing, and a rhythmic pulse that is not rigid yet is steady and forward-moving. A Delhi newspaper during Spivakovsky’s first tour of India in 1956 stated that "the grand introduction of the Fantasia and the deliciously clear rhythm of the Fugue were rendered with superb artistry and musicianship”, and the same qualities can be heard in this current performance.

Beethoven Sonata No.21 in C Major Op.53, ‘Waldstein’

Spivakovsky’s October 1967 recording of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata is nothing less than extraordinary. It seems almost inconceivable that the pianist should have been aged 70 at the time of this reading, the first movement being taken at a remarkably brisk tempo yet played with tremendous accuracy, clarity, and rhythmic certainty. Spivakovsky uses minimal pedal (he seems almost not to be using it at all) and his articulation is incredibly clean and even, each and every note sounding clear while his exquisitely shaped phrasing highlights key musical motifs. In the second movement, transparent voicing reveals the composer’s rich harmonic textures while polished phrasing projects melodic lines with tremendous lucidity. Particularly impressive are the pauses between phrases: the silence never leads to a loss of musical structure or tension but in fact adds to it. In the final movement, attentive pedaling (as per Beethoven’s markings in the score) creates a haze around the main melody while the undulating left hand accompaniment is still clearly defined. Structure is revealed with uncanny transparency through the use of skilled articulation and phrasing, enabling multiple motifs to be underlined at the same time, each phrase singing while specific notes are accented without breaking the line. Sir Neville Cardus referred to Spivakovsky’s Beethoven playing as "an experience of mind and spirit and a sincere artist’s submergence of self and technical awareness into the world of Beethoven” and this breathtaking performance, fleet and virtuosic as well as emotionally and intellectually profound, fits the renowned critic’s description perfectly.

Chopin Ballade No.1 in G Minor Op.23

Although the piano used in this December 1966 recording of Chopin’s First Ballade has some intonation issues, the performance is one of the greatest ever recorded, Spivakovsky sounding spontaneous despite his remarkable attention to detail. Melodic lines are presented like sentences recited by a skilled actor, with a natural rise and fall, with organic pacing and expression, the connectivity between lines well thought through, always played with extraordinary subtlety. With his adjustments to dynamics, tone, and nuance (via pedaling and timing), Spivakovsky gives phrases priority over rigid metrical structure yet never loses the pulse. He plays in the true Romantic tradition, with rubato used in relation to the structure of the work, subtle differences of time and shaping being used to highlight each repeated structural or musical element. He underscores many of the same inner voices highlighted in Josef Hofmann’s legendary 1937 Golden Jubilee performance, yet whereas Hofmann’s burnished voices soar on a higher sonic plane than the other layers, here they are coloured such that they are clearly revealed within the overall texture of the work. This powerful performance nevertheless eschews exaggerated climaxes and contrived emotionality, the pianist ensuring that the performance doesn’t peak too soon, holding back until the actual structural climax of the work. A 1933 review from The Advertiser stated that "Jascha Spivakovsky gave us a new interpretation of Chopin's G Minor Ballade, one that mattered. It was maturely conceived – not Spivakovsky at the expense of Chopin.” Indeed, the pianist reveals here the best of the Romantic tradition - inspired individuality and breadth of expression - with the best of the newer approach to objective presentation of the composer’s intent through respect of the text.

Brahms Romanze in F Major Op.118 No.5

The recording of Brahms’s Romanze in F Major Op.118 No.5 in October-November 1955 features a broad tempo and expansive rubato. Spivakovsky does not highlight the primary melodic line so much as he does the larger harmonic progression of the work, paying attention to its counterpoint and overall structure, each section being distinct yet seamlessly bridged with attentive adjustments of tempo and dynamics. Each of the four initial presentations of the main melody in the opening section is voiced differently, with adjustments to dynamics and timing serving to highlight a variety of emotional expressions through the same theme. Spivakovsky’s weighting of chords in the outer sections is exquisite, while in the middle section both the melodic line and inner voices are beautifully intertwined; the remarkable deceleration before the more agitated central section, with each note’s timing and decay seamlessly presented, anticipates the change in mood. Following the luminous and penetrating middle section, he shapes the reprise into a broad arch, following Brahms's written intentions, all the while applying his unerring taste in phrasing and rubato to build the tension and dynamics to a marvelous peak, drawing out passion and depth to build to a carefully-identified climactic point near the end of the work, and then a gorgeous fading out to a beautifully-timed presentation of the final chord. It is little wonder that the pianist was so widely acclaimed for his Brahms playing, in Europe (and Germany in particular) in the ‘20s and ‘30s and in his Australian, American, British, and other international appearances from the through the ‘30s to ‘60s.

Debussy: Two Preludes

Book 1 No.7: Ce qu’a vu le vent de l’Ouest

Book 1 No. 12: Minstrels

Two Debussy Preludes recorded in February/March 1958 demonstrate Spivakovsky’s brilliance at characterization and shifting tonal palettes. In Ce qua vu le vent de lOuest (What the West wind saw), fiery passion is fused with skilled voicing and an array of tonal colours that brings to mind Debussy’s orchestral writing (there is more than a passing resemblance to La Mer). The pianist told his son Michael that he imagined that “the wind would sometimes be a gentle zephyr looking down over the landscape and at other times blowing into a violent typhoon as it passed over raging seas or volcanoes” - indeed, the Manchester Guardian in 1948 stated that “Mr. Spivakovsky turned the west wind into a cyclone.” His massive dynamic range is carefully exploited so that tension builds at an appropriate pace, while careful pedaling and voicing serve to present melodic subjects within a cathedral of sound, true to Debussy’s impressionistic style.

In Minstrels, Spivakovsky captures the whimsical tone of Debussy’s writing with a masterful application of rubato, creating a sense of nervousness characteristic of this work, which depicts a variety stage show: one can well imagine a bumbling entertainer almost losing his balance during the opening trick. He plays with energy and an almost childish, unfiltered naiveté as moods change moment by moment. Dissonance is voiced transparently rather than harshly, highlighting the humour and playful nature of this work with creative timing and controlled dynamic contrast.

Kabalevsky Piano Sonata No.3 in F Major Op.46

Spivakovsky’s May/June 1962 account of Kabalevsky’s Piano Sonata No.3 rivals the legendary recordings of Horowitz and Moiseiwitsch. Throughout the entire work, Spivakovsky lets the music speak while still playing with a very individual approach. He plays with exquisite clarity, his singing tone and lyrical phrasing revealing the beauty of the main melodic subject of the first movement while careful tempo adjustments and accenting underscore the work’s harmonic and structural elements while his lilting, dancing touch keeps the music light on its feet. As always, Spivakovsky’s treatment of transitions is thoughtfully considered: note the delightful expansive broadening of tempo before the return of the main subject in the first movement. His deep forging of the long line in the second movement draws out the melancholic atmosphere, which together with his transparent voicing of the accompaniment highlights the sardonic harmonic flavour of the movement. The various moods of the closing movement - from playful to passionate to anguished - are woven together with care. Spivakovsky’s varied tonal palette includes a sparkling sound in the upper registers in buoyant moments, in contrast to a more expansive depth of tone in more dramatic sections. Even in the work’s most passionate measures, the pianist never bangs, resisting the common ‘combat boot’ accents one often hears in such repertoire, instead letting clarity of texture and fullness of tone be the basis of his dramatic framework. A lush reading that is a miracle of articulation and subtle tempo variation and post-Romantic expression.

- Mark Ainley

Fanfare Review

This central movement is a mere five minutes, yet under Spivakovsky’s fingers seems to speak of whole worlds

Jascha Spivakovsky (1896–1970) is quite a find. His teacher, Moritz Maher-Marr, studied with Franz Liszt and Anton Rubinstein, and this is one instance where a heritage being passed down is audible. His series of concerts with Furtwängler is possibly his most famous endeavor, although he was chosen by Richard Strauss to play the solo in that composer’s Burleske. His brother was the famous violinist Tossy Spivakovsky.

The recordings here were made in Spivakovsky’s own music room at his home in Melbourne, Australia by the pianist’s son, Michael Spivakovsky, who also oversaw the transfers in Melbourne before they were sent to France for Pristine to restore and remaster, and, in fact, to acoustically “rehouse.”

The Bach/Liszt is awe-inspiring in its breadth of touch and its perfectly judged dimunuendos. Lines are clear throughout, and the whole exudes a tremendous sense of an awareness of the work’s structure. The “Waldstein” first movement is fast but precise, the staccato and accuracy clearly the result of fingers of steel. One thing that sings throughout this performance is a sense of rightness, of knowing. The Adagio molto is simply stunning, a perfect pocket of Beethovenian stillness where silences speak with Webernian potency. The finale creeps in with real magic and golden tone. Beauty is important here, and so is pedal technique. Spivakovsky is not afraid to use the pedal, but he does not shy away from the pedal-free, either. The result is terrifically exciting, imaginative, and true to the spirit of Beethoven.

The same clarity characterizes Spivakovsky’s Chopin. Any blurrings are clearly intentional and have a clear point relating to the composer’s ongoing narration. This is thought through, an object lesson in how to pedal in Chopin. The 6/4 section becomes the ghost of a waltz; the coda is astonishing because, without losing any of its excitement, it is both intelligent and accurate. The crepuscular side of Brahms (op. 118/5) emerges from the strong chords of this Romanze’s opening. Spivakovsky apparently often paired the two particular Debussy Préludes on offer here. Perhaps some detail is blurred by the recording in the “West Wind” here, but it remains an impressive, elemental, and explosive reading; there is no such problem in “Minstrels,” given in a performance of great, almost cartoony, character.

Perhaps the greatest treasure of all is Kabalevsky’s Sonata No. 3. He gives the piece more backbone than does Moiseiwitsch in his famous October 1946 HMV account. A link to Prokofiev in the Andante cantabile seems clear, and Spivakovsky seems equally clear that Kabalevsky can plumb just as great depths as that better-known composer This central movement is a mere five minutes, yet under Spivakovsky’s fingers seems to speak of whole worlds. Similarly the finale, which seems on the surface to make reference to the same spirit as does Shostakovich in circus mode, is here a sparkling piece of wit, yet one that fits the sonata’s overall concerns perfectly.

Just one thing, and I am probably being remarkably stupid, but why is it called “Bach to Bloch”? There is no Bloch here (apart from perhaps a mental “Bloch” on my part), alphabetically it goes further than “B” and it goes further than Bloch chronologically, too (Kabalevsky died in 1987). Anyway, this is wonderful.

Colin Clarke
This article originally appeared in Issue 39:2 (Nov/Dec 2015) of Fanfare Magazine.