I won this spectacular 2 CD set as a spoil of a bet. My wife and I were having after dinner fun at a fellow reviewer’s house guessing orchestras, artists, etc, as you do. He played this one hoping to relieve his pain for me guessing the opening few bars of Schoenberg’s rarely performed Gurrelieder. Name that tune?!
If I could tell him who was playing, the CD was mine. I guessed the brilliant pianist was either Richter or Weissenberg. Even though I gave two answers, one was correct, so he coughed up.
I assumed incorrectly that the enigmatic Weissenberg was Russian, but my friend was happy to pounce on my mistake and proclaim the virtuoso, Romanian. We were both wrong. Weissenberg was born in Bulgaria in 1929. He died last year as a citizen of France.
And, therein lies the tale of Weissenberg’s life. A tale of two or even three artists. These recordings are from early Lumen (a French boutique label) and Columbia LPs (1949 - 55), when Weissenberg was winning competitions and making a name for himself not only as a consummate virtuoso but also as a fine musician. Abruptly, he took a ten year sabbatical teaching and studying. His ‘second’ performing career was highlighted with recordings for EMI and becoming a favoured collaborator with conducting luminaries such as Herbert von Karajan.
The friend who gave me the CD interviewed Weissenberg in the 90s. He found him incredibly cultured and knowledgeable on many subjects. A very well read, interesting man. This culture is highlighted in the playing on the two CDs of ‘The Sigi Recordings (1949 - 1955)’. Sigi was his first name before the sabbatical — he returned to the stage as ‘Alexis’.
The sources for these reissues are mono and sound like they were taken from LPs. Audiophiles, do not let this put you off this gem of a release! I listened to the CDs on a standard player and also as FLAC files on a new server/DAC combo I’m reviewing. Heard both ways, the sound has impact and is refined, a few snap, crackle and pops, aside.
The sound may be up for debate, but the performances are not. From a refined Haydn Eb Sonata to wistful Scriabin to probably the finest Liszt B Minor on record, you will be amazed at Weissenberg’s filigree technique, his crystalline sound (much maligned in his later recordings– ‘cold as ice’ — I do not agree), his consistently beautiful tone and delicate touch. Brilliant.
Rarely have I enjoyed piano CDs as much as this set. Each musical era is graced with ‘appropriate’ interpretations. As such, lovers of great piano playing and audiophiles should make this a must buy. Had I received this set earlier, it would have been considered for Audiophilia’s 2012 Star Recording of the Year.
The Sigi Recordings (1949 - 1955) — Alexis Weissenberg
2 CD set
BACH-LISZT: Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 543
HAYDN: Sonata in Eb major, Hob XVI:52
3 Sonatas: 1: D minor (No. 24); 2: D minor; 3: C# minor (S.R. 21)
CZERNY: La Ricordenza Variations on a Theme by Rode, Op. 33
PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 28 (From old Notebooks)
Suggestion Diabolique, Op. 4 No. 4
SCRIABIN: Etude No. 11 in Bb minor, Op. 8
Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9 No. 2
Années de Pèlerinage (Deuxième Année):
- No. 6: Sonetto del Petrarca No. 123
- No. 5: Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104
Sonata in B minor