Underrated pianists celebrated

… for starters, some great Russians on Melodiya. Vladimir Krainev’s bullish and rhythmically taut set of the Prokofiev concertos (under Kitayenko), more imposing by far than his Teldec set. Samiil Feinberg in Scriabin Mazurkas, two exquisite miniaturists working for a common magical cause (Feinberg’s  Bach 48 on Pristine is as unmissable), and Magda Tagliaferro (on Heritage), in Reynaldo Hahn and Schumann. Years ago these and other recordings like them would have been the exclusive property of sleuth-like collectors, but not now. I could go on and on, but who would like to add to the list? Any pianist from any era, ancient or modern.

48 thoughts on “Underrated pianists celebrated

  1. Where do you start? There are SO many! Right of the top of my head, Anthony di Bonaventura’s splendid Debussy Etudes and Scarlatti Sonatas. Michèle Boegner’s Schubert Sonata in B-flat D. 960. Ekaterina Dershavina’s Bach Goldberg Variations. Jean-Rodolphe Kars’ Debussy and Messiaen have been reissued, but his gorgeous 1975 French EMI Schoenberg cycle is completely unknown, and has never been on CD, so far as I know. The late Robert Sherlaw Johnson’s Messiaen also seems unjustly overlooked. My 2007 Gramophone survey of Brahms’ Third Sonata Op. 5 yielded an dark horse in André Laplante’s amazing recording. To be continued and continued…..

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    1. Erica Worth has posted a very interesting list, so here goes:
      Erica wrote: “You are going to love this Rob Cowan. (Combined Jesper and myself!):
      Boris Bloch, Daniel Berman, Philip Fowke, Jozef De Beenhouwer, Jean-Marc Luisada, Alexei Lubimov, Donna Amato, Sontraud Speidel
      Marie-Cathérine Girod, Enrique Perez de Guzman, Roberto Cappello
      Anton Kuerti, Kathryn Stott, Jeffrey Swann, Franz Vorraber, Frédéric Meinders, Nicholas Walker, Frederic Chiu, Vladimir Stoupel, Konstantin Scherbakov, Duo Tal and Groethuysen, Francesco Libetta, Alfredo Perl, Fredrik Ullén, Enrico Pace, Giovanni Belucci, Konstantin Lifschitz, Jean Dubé, Kolja Lessing, Jonathan Plowright, Andrea Bacchetti, Edna Stern, Anatol Ugorski, Elena Kuschnerova, Ekaterina Derzhavina, Ludmil Angelov, Roland Pöntinen, Cecile Licad, Eldar Nebolsin, Evgeny Soifertis, Peter Jablonski, Janice Weber, Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, Jenny Lin, Håvard Gimse, Sofja Gülbadamova, Sandro Russo, Amir Tebenikhin, Hubert Rutkowski
      Henri Sigfridsson”

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  2. James Jolly

    I’d suggest Abbey Simon, a pianist who’s all but forgotten – certainly this side of the pond. I’ve always loved his Chopin but he made some terrific Brahms discs…

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  3. Geoff Burke

    Geza Anda I thought was a wonderful interpreter of Mozart and his playing of the Concerto 25 on Deutsche Grammophon inspired me many years ago to really appreciate these exceptional masterpieces. I was very sorry to hear of his passing in 1976 – such a loss.

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  4. Wilhelm Kempfff “live”, far different than the studio musician. A Beethoven cycle from Japan has finally appeared on CD and he dives naked into the music, abandoning everything from the pragmatic reality to reveal every nuance and energy. From Russia there are Alexander Kamensky, colleague of Sofronitsky, Shostakovich, and Yudina, who had an imperial touch throughout the Stalin years, highly poetic and refined. A few Melodya LPs but the Panovnik blog offers live recordings. And a book on Elena Bekmann-Shcherbina contains a few hours of her remarkable refined art. She was admired by Scriabin and her touch and style are mouthwateringly irresistible. The official Melodya CD release boasted of Soviet radio having dozens or hours by her: well, where are they, or is this another cloud of steam emanating from the Russian tearoom?

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    1. Details of the Kempff cycle Allan please. I have the Japanese Concerto cycle. Dates? How do yo rate Alexander Borowski’s Vox Bach English and French Suites? I’ve always rather liked them. Jed, too, any thoughts? The guy I bought them from in the London Mayfair store Discurio yonks ago thought they sounded a little like Rubinstein, not a bad description I thought.

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      1. 1961 in Tokyo. Nine CD set “limited edition:
        http://www.amazon.co.jp/ウィルヘルム・ケンプ-ベートーヴェン・ピアノソナタ全曲連続演奏会ライヴ-Wilhelm-Beethoven-Sonatas/dp/B00DMUOHFE/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1416306076&sr=8-3&keywords=kempff+beethoven
        Haven’t heard Borowsky’s issued Bach but he recorded the complete WTC in Denmark that awaits release. It’s very clear and direct but without the impulsive imagination that a composer like Feinberg brings to it.

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      2. Many years ago I owned Borowsky’s Two and Three Part Inventions on a Vox LP. I remember them as well played but not as musically alive as the Sinfonias with Lukas Foss issued by American Decca around that same time. I’ve never heard his other Bach recordings except for those included in Pearl’s two CD set containing the 78 RPM versions of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies. And for that matter I’ve never heard Borowsky’s LP remakes for Vox of the Liszt Rhapsodies.

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  5. Terence Judd (b.London,1957, d Beachy Head,1979) – not so much underrated as extinguished, though never forgotten. Of current British virtuosi, I’d single out Peter Hill (b.1948), perhaps not as internationally known as he ought to be, for his sublime subtlety in Bach, Messiaen et al. Agreed JD, Robert Sherlaw Johnson was another academic equally at home at the keyboard. His ‘Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus’ at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford c.1979, lingers in the mind as though it happened last week. Stravinsky quipped that Britten would be [only] be remembered as one of the finest piano accompanists of his day!

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  6. Bendor Grosvenor

    Afraid I don’t know enough to comment in any depth, but for what it’s worth (!), my grandmother, who saw Rachmaninoff play Rachmaninoff and was buddies with Yehudi Menuhin, said that in his concert days, ie the early 50s, Joe Cooper was superb.

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  7. Frederick Naftel commented “Rob, the Ogdon Concerto is part of a 4CD set, with other stunning performances. I used to own the original LP coupled with Shostakovich No.2. You MUST hear the complete work!! And on another note(!), have you heard Malcolm Williamson playing his own 3rd Concerto on Lyrita?”

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    1. … and Yvonne Lefébure? There’s a wonderful recital from the early sixties newly available from Testament (SBT 1497) … her Fauré is especially remarkable, as is her Schubert (15 Waltzes) and Debussy (Préludes, Book Two). Do try and hear it.

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  8. Di Jonson

    What exactly is meant by underrated here? If you mean not as well known as they should be, then quite a few mentioned above ARE well known and have/had good careers….. so not really underrated then….?

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    1. They may have careers Di – or we wouldn’t have heard of theme (there are thousands of good pianists around without active concert careers) – it’s more a relative observation. Most of the names cited here cannot compare, in publicity/reputation terms, with, say, Lang Lang, Martha Argerich, Horowitz, Rubinstein, Radu Lupu, Clifford Curzon, Peter Katin (though he’s a marginal case) and so on. I’ve broken off from working on some notes about Karl Engel – he too is a marginal case. Who, nowadays and in the wider scheme of things, has heard of Samiil Feinberg, Alexander Borovsky, or Raoul Koczalski, not to mention some excellent (relative) unknowns on the current circuit? Having a ‘good’ career isn’t quite the same is being justly celebrated. There are artists in all fields who are too self-effacing for their own good and who end up by being ousted, sometimes unintentionally, by inferior rivals. I suppose what I’m saying is that knowing how to present yourself is one thing, knowing how to perform/create, another. The two can be mutually exclusive. Best. R

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      1. Di Jonson

        Good answer, thank you. Yes I can see that having a career and being justly celebrated are different, the first is the ideal the second is a consolation prize! But the real question is, who can tell the good and deserving from the inferior? surely it is only other artists of similar stature who can really know ? And is it really only the personalities of the artists that are responsible for the lack or not of a career – doesn’t luck/money/a good PR come into it? Perhaps those in positions of influence, such as yourself and others who have commented here, can do more to push these artists rather than churn out yet more publicity for the already famous – so blogs like yours are a step in the right direction!

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  9. Thanks Di. Well, yes, if I have any influence at all – and there have been many instances in the past when a ‘lesser name’ has excited me – than of course
    I put everything I have behind a strong recommendation. As to luck/money/a good PR again, these are important considerations, but none of them matters if the artist in question doesn’t take their cue. I’ve known many performers who because of good looks or ‘personality’ (how I hate that word) have been touted but who have fallen by the wayside because the real grit, fibre, true artistry or intellectual heft has been lacking. And that’s where those have the modest ‘gift’ – very modest – of reading, seeing, listening or sensing come in. They’re able to stand far enough back, away from such preoccupying issues as technique etc, and assess what’s really there. There’s a wonderful DVD of Sviatoslav Richter in interview. There’s someone who could never understand why people want to watch a filmed performance. “Who wants to watch anyone work?” he said, and that’s very telling. I’ve just watched a programme on Anselm Kiefer and I’m on air. I’ve witnessed something wonderful, many wonderful things actually, and I probably won’t sleep a wink tonight. That’s the essence of appreciation. What a privilege! Best

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  10. David

    When Alkan is concerned, Ronald Smith is all but overlooked these days. People seem to think the only decent recordings of the big works (opus 39 for example) is Marc-Andre Hamelin, whose playing is certainly amazing. He is accurate, impressive, but also somewhat clinical. Ronald Smith certainly sometimes took the wrong tempos (sometimes playing too fast to get all the right notes, sometimes playing too slow to give the pieces the right demonic attitude).

    But Smith had an incredible ability to bring out certain individual notes from Alkan’s densely packed mosaic, creating a clarity even in the ridiculously dense sonority.

    Another pianist who undertakes Alkan’s extreme demands – despite having had reconstructive surgery on his wrist after a car accident – is Jack Gibbons. He recorded a double-CD of Alkan for ASV some years ago, and now plays a summer concert series every year in the Hollywell Music Room. His cheery and self-effacing demeanour – and a crowd-pleasing tendency to programme the popular classics – does hide the incredible depth of his playing of Alkan, and Gershwin. Definitely underrated, like Alkan!

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  11. David

    Gibbons’ Carnagie Hall performance of the Alkan Concerto for Solo Piano, on Youtube, is technically sounder than his ASV disk. I reckon it is the most consummately musical performance on offer from any pianist, Hamelin and Smith included.

    Careful though, it’s 55 minutes, all three movements are included!

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  12. Muriel

    Can I cast a vote for Martin Roscoe? A superb CD back catalogue including some less well known works , his Dohnanyi for example are beautifully considered recordings. He’s also one of the busiest performers around – maybe that discounts him as being under-rated? But I’d love to hear him at the BBC proms again soon.

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      1. Muriel

        Awaiting the next Beethoven disc with baited breath! Schubert next… A treat in store. A real musician indeed, quietly gets on with it with no histrionics – none necessary.

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  13. Sidney Foster. First winner of the Leventritt in NY, made his debut with the NY Philharmonic in 1941 with John Barbirolli, started a career, was stopped by a heart attack in his 30’s, and devoted his life to teaching at Indiana University. He was a student of Vengerova and Saperton (teacher of Bolet, Cherkassky and Simon) at Curtis. International Piano Archives at Maryland published a double CD, “Ovation to Sidney Foster” with recordings from live recitals at Indiana. And Marston Records included Foster in its “A Century of Romatic Chopin”. His two Chopin Etudes in that compilation show one of the most dazzling techniques in history, and a fabulous musical imagination.

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  14. a few more names, André Tchaikowsky, Edith Vogel (still the most characterful and human ‘Hammerklavier’ in my opinion) and Norma Fisher. I admit bias but still find myself returning to their recordings.

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  15. Ian Julier

    Monique Haas – gritty, no-nonsense Ravel
    Fou Ts’ong – magical, matchless Chopin and Debussy
    Louis Kentner – poise and aristocracy in everything
    Agustin Anievas – stunning Chopin Etudes on EMI
    Julius Katchen – the hottest Rachmaninov 2nd Concerto on the planet – with Fistoulari though, emphatically not Solti!

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  16. James Jeanes

    Rob,
    One from the past – Ingrid Haebler, I have a record of her perfect Schubert, it’s the main reason I haven’t thrown out my old record player!
    2 underrated English pianists – John Lill, a lovely man, phenomenal technique
    and Peter Katin, because he comes from where I grew up in South London!
    One to watch – Cordelia Williams. Went to the same school as my boys so again a bit biased! , should be a new generation artist….

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    1. Thanks James; will watch out for Cordelia. Agreed about Haebler and Katin. I’m playing some of PK’s Mozart in a forthcoming edition of Sunday Morning (Radio 3) and of course Haebler’s set of the Mozart Concertos is one of the very best.

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