Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paul Baumgartner live at Lugano 1964

A bit of a rarity here. The discography of the Swiss pianist Paul Baumgartner  (21 July 1903 – 19 October 1976) is pretty sparse. And, indeed, so are biographical details (I know, I wrote most of the tiny Wikipedia entry). His pupils included Alfred Brendel, and the very-underrated Karl Engel, who recorded one of the finest Mozart concerto cycles I know. 

As you might expect, the playing is insightful, and the selection of music is certainly not run-of-the mill. In 1964 you didn't hear Masques or Brahms Op 117 routinely programmed. The playing is also remarkable for its refusal to resort to grand gesture – listening to the Brahms, the little nuances of rubato seem to come from inside the music rather than outside, if that makes any sense. It is rubato that helps each note to find its rightful place in the flow of the music, rather than rubato that gives a customised colour to each phrase. The opening of the Andante Favori seems, well, matter of fact, but listen to the second statement of the theme – he was holding back something, wasn't he? And the Brahms Op 117/1 – less instant atmosphere than you or I might like, but by the time the last chords arrive you realise that the effect he has been working towards is the effect of the whole piece, not the notes.

But first and foremost, this upload is a tribute to all the touring pianists who played at the Royal Dublin Society in the fifties and sixties. My mother would take me along. Sure, I got to hear some household names – Arrau, Vasary – but many of the pianists were the traveling recitalists of yesteryear – Jacques Klein, for example, was a regular visitor. Who? — Exactly. A whole tradition pretty much gone. (Klein was a Brazilian, and although I cannot find any recordings, I think he was pretty good – at least my childhood self thought so.) 

Beethoven : Piano Sonata Op 27/2, Andante Favori
Brahms : 3 Intermezzi Op 117
Debussy : Images Book I, Masques
Chopin : Ballade No 4
Schubert : Moment Musical Op 94/6
Chopin : Waltz Op 70/3
Recorded 17 Feb 1964

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  1. This really isn't a comment on this particular post, but ...

    I just discovered your site (don't ask why not until now) and came across your fabulous Bernstein Mahler 2nd and just wanted to thank you so much for posting it and keeping it available. What a magnificent performance, which stirred memories of one of the very greatest concerts I ever attended -- Bernstein's 1000th with the NY Philharmonic, which consisted entirely of the Mahler Second. It's a shame the dynamics are compressed and the sound is too reverberant from the cathedral, but the overall sense of passion and commitment still is astounding. So ... thanks!!

    Peter Gutmann (

  2. I'd sooner hear the Bernstein, with all its sonic imperfections, than a lifetime of carefully manicured Mahler. But yes, I'd love to get my hands on the source of that recording!

    Interesting site you have, to say the least!

  3. Lovely "old world" recital, indeed. I like Baumartner's tone and natural phrasing, although I wish that Ermitage/Aura folks did not use fake reverb on all their transfers of historical broadcasts. (What they did to Yvonne Lefebure/Furtwangler performance of Mozart's D-minor concerto is borderline criminal.) Oh, and the Chopin F-minor Ballade is transferred at about 3.0 db below the correct volume. (That's easy to fix, unlike the awful fake reverb...).

    Many thanks!

  4. Paul Baumgartner was my Godfather. I heard many of his recitals and I could put a more comprehensive write-up together if there is interest. The lack of info about him is simply a reflection of his profound humility. Please contact me if you have questions. Tobias Jenny.