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Five Minutes of Magic


A two-piano performance recorded nearly 100 years ago features truly phenomenal piano playing.

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ISSN: 2792-8349

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International Journal of Music

Any recording has the potential to capture ineffable qualities that can be re-experienced each time it is heard. Previous postings have explored legendary interpretations by Ignaz Friedman and Benno Moiseiwitsch that continue to be revered; indeed, each pianist in the Piano Files series is one whose individual mastery presents music in a unique way. The two-piano performance featured here is a very special one made nearly 100 years ago that continues to delight listeners and surely will for many more years to come.

Harold Bauer and Ossip Gabrilowitsch were great musicians whose abilities went beyond the piano. The British-born Bauer had actually started his career as a violinist — in fact, it was only around the age of 20 that he turned his attention to the piano, a change of course that is almost impossible to imagine. Some attribute his beautiful tone to the quality of touch required by the violin (other pianists who also started off playing the violin include Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, and Egon Petri) but whatever the reason, Bauer was known for the particularly beguiling sonorities he could draw from the piano. (You can read more about the pianist here.)

The Russian-born Gabrilowitsch also enjoyed a career of note as a pianist but then turned his attention to conducting, becoming one of the first conductors of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (after turning down the invitation to lead the Boston SO) while continuing to tour as a soloist. His own gorgeous piano sound world was surely the result of studying with two of the most legendary pedagogues of all time who were known for their tonal colours, Anton Rubinstein and Theodor Leschetizky. Sadly, Gabrilowitsch left behind barely an hour of solo recordings and died at the young age of 58 in 1936.

In the late 1920s, Bauer and Gabrilowitsch joined forces to record a single two-sided 78rpm disc (about five minutes each side). One side of that record is the Waltz from Arensky’s Suite for Two Pianos Op.15, a lovely work largely forgotten today, in a performance that is overflowing with charm and elegance.

However, the naturalness and grace of the playing does not mean that the record was produced with similar ease: the artists made at least 13 attempts over the course of four sessions at Liederkranz Hall in New York between June 13, 1928 and September 19, 1929. After experimenting with different microphone placement and instrument alignment, they achieved their desired result with the final take — and what a performance it is!

The two pianists play with a sumptuous sonority, fluid legato phrasing, beautifully refined dynamic shadings, impeccable clarity of articulation, and a delightful rhythmic lilt, all of which make this such an infectiously joyous performance. Particularly astounding are the auric glow that they achieve with their masterful pedal technique and the lightness of the runs and glissandi — this is playing that truly needs to be heard to be believed.

It is almost impossible to imagine that this incredible performance was set down almost 100 years ago as this exceptionally fine transfer captures the playing of both musicians with extraordinary fidelity. Sincere thanks are owed to Tom Jardine, a collector who transfers old recordings as a hobby (with better results than many professionals), for graciously providing this wonderfully accomplished dub of the old record for upload on my YouTube channel.

Magical, inspiring, description-defying piano playing for the ages!


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