Arthur Loesser in Recital: Music by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin & Prokofiev, together with the first CD release of "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi." Marston CD 52036-2 (2 discs, 157:40, available from http://www.marstonrecords.com/ )
Scholar, wit and pianist Arthur Loesser (1894-1969) is best remembered, if he is remembered at all, for the magnificent social and cultural history, Men, Women and Pianos , completed in Cleveland in 1954 and reissued in various forms from time to time over the past half-century. Few writers have encapsulated the magic and mystery of performance better than the soft-spoken master, whose better known half-brother, Frank, of Broadway fame, allegedly inspired the pianist to quip at some point that he was the eviler of the two Loessers. He left few recordings, and most of them have been out of print (but nonetheless eagerly sought by specialist collectors) for years. Now Ward Marston, one of America's leading sound restoration engineers, has reissued what may be arguably the best of Loesser's Lps, a marvelous 1967 Town Hall recital of mostly forgotten miniatures by some of Loesser's most illustrious keyboard predecessors. The pianist's own notes accompany the release, which includes several works omitted from the original Lp edition, published by International Piano Library. The "new" recordings are of music by Hummel (an Introduction and Rondo Brillant) and Clementi (a Sonata in B-Flat). These and pieces by Dussek and Field are played on a replica of an early 19th century piano made by John Challis. We've made a lot of progress since 1967 in terms of our understanding of early keyboard instruments, but few artists today play like Loesser. The other readings here, given on a "real" piano, are of scores by Jensen, Rubinstein, Raff, Chabrier, Godowsky, Reger, Casella, Busoni and Moszkowski, together with encores by MacDowell and Ravina. These allow, in his words, "a glimpse... of these unlucky productions... before they inevitably redescend to their damnation."
The second CD consists of previously unreleased recordings of live performances of Bach's Toccata in D and preludes and fugues by Bach and Mendelssohn, made in Cleveland and Chevy Chase, together with portions of a 1967 Cleveland recital previously published by IPL: a Haydn Sonata (in D, H.XVI:42), Beethoven's Variations on Winter's "Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen," Prokofiev's Fifth Sonata, Chopin's B Major Nocturne and Variations brillantes (on the "Ronde de Ludovic," from Hérold's opera), and a Mozart Gigue. His Bach is astounding in every respect and will surely warm the hearts of Triangle music lovers who recall his roughly contemporaneous all-Bach recitals here. Listeners with access to the printed music will find revelations at every turn, for Loesser was scrupulous in his fidelity to the composers' intentions-even when those intentions were violated by inattentive publishers! Some of the scores aren't likely to be readily available, but the obscure Beethoven and Chopin variations are, for the record, included in Theodore Presser's impressive and mostly-complete CD-Rom series ( http://www.cdsheetmusic.com/ ). For a scholar, Loesser was a truly great pianist. Conversely, as a pianist, his performances were founded in research - but never dust-encrusted! What could be better than that? He really seems to have had it all-the breathtaking technique of a Horowitz (although there are some clunkers in these live recordings) coupled with superb musicianship and interpretive skills.
We have a copy of the original Lp of "Sic Transit..." so can report that Marston has done wonders with the sound, and the other material, mostly from 1967, has held up well. For an introduction (or reintroduction) to a great American pianist who is today, sadly, almost as obscure as some of the works he played, this double-CD set is urgently recommended. With luck, too, it will inspire additional CD reissues. In notes for an old Perennial Lp of Brahms sonatas, annotator Helen L. Kaufmann, a friend of the pianist, mentions Bach's suites, Goldberg Variations and the WTC, suggesting that all were recorded. Their reissue now, by Marston, would further serve the memory of one of America's great artists.