There are people (like me) whose voices suggest someone far younger than they are while others (like the late Allan Evans) look far younger than they sound. My friend the pianist-composer Jed Distler has just informed me that Allan, one of the most significant historical audio restoration pioneers, died yesterday in New York. I’m gutted. Allan was a diamond, always concerned for others, good fun and most important as far as posterity is concerned, a brilliant teacher, scholar and an historian whose non-profits arts organisation Arbiter, which he founded in 1996, published more than 150 recordings by historic interpreters, some of them obscure to the point of previous invisibility – but always worth hearing.
I will never forget the first time we met. It was at the (London) Swiss Cottage home of Michal Hambourg (1919-2004), daughter of pianist Mark Hambourg (1879-1960) and the violinist Dorothea Muir Mackenzie (1881-?). I’d previously only conversed with Allan over the phone. He sounded like a wise elderly gent and when he answered the door, I just couldn’t square the young-looking guy in front of me (Allan was merely in his early sixties when he died) with that deep, gravelly voice. We had a ball, Michal cooking the freshest vegan meal you could imagine while reminiscing about her Dad – ‘old school’ isn’t the word, Mark’s playing as recorded was positively Shakespearean – and how they recorded Liszt together for HMV. Thereafter Allan and I kept in touch. His book on – and passionate advocacy of – the Polish-Jewish pianist Ignacy Friedman (1882-1948) illuminated the art of a player whose every recording shines like a beacon in the firmament. Largely because of Allan, Friedman’s legacy has appeared on, for example, Danacord (who had first reissued it, on vinyl), Naxos and Pearl, with individual albums on APR, Marston and Allan’s own Arbiter label. Allan’s superb book ‘Ignace Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist’ is published by Indiana Press.
But writing on Friedman and the Liszt-pupil Moriz Rosenthal, as well numerous cd booklet notes, was far from being Allan’s sole talent. His biography will tell you that he was ‘dragged into music when first hearing the music of Gospel singer/banjo-and-guitar player Rev. Gary Davis and became his last pupil’. His recording excavations delivered to our door, in addition to copious first-releases of recordings of the great Polish-American pianist Mieczysław Horszowski, the likes of pianists Alfred Hoehn (in Brahms), Iren Marik, Madeleine de Valmalète and the ‘lost legend of Cairo’ Ignace Tiegerman – a Friedman pupil, ‘the greatest talent papà ever worked with’ was Friedman’s own assessment according to his daughter Mme Lydia Walder. You can check out the amazingly wide-ranging Arbiter legacy for yourself on https://arbiterrecords.org/ Allan Evans was a true musician, the sort of listener who because of his passion for what he heard made you want to listen all the more carefully. He is survived by his wife Beatrice and his son Stefan. God rest him.