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ClassicsOnline Home » CHOPIN: Mazurkas (Friedman) (1928-1930)
Great Pianists Ignaz Friedman
Complete Recordings, Vol. 3
Ignaz Friedman was born, as was Josef Hofmann, in Podgorze, a suburb of Krakow, Poland, in 1882. His father was a musician who played in a local theatre orchestra and after piano lessons with a local teacher Flora Grzywinska, Friedman left Krakow in 1900 to study composition at the Leipzig Conservatory with Hugo Riemann. It was not until 1901, when he was already nineteen, that he decided to go to Vienna for lessons with Theodore Leschetizky. As with Moiseiwitsch, Leschetizky was not enthusiastic when the young Friedman presented himself, but after three years of study (also becoming Leschetizkys teaching assistant), Friedman was ready to make his Vienna début in November 1904 at which he played the D minor Concerto of Brahms, Tchaikovskys First Concerto and the E flat Concerto of Liszt. This début launched a touring career that began in 1905, and for the next forty years Friedman seemed to be perpetually on tour; he visited the United States twelve times, South America seven times, and Europe every year, as well as Iceland, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, Palestine, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Although he did not often perform chamber music in public he collaborated with the greatest instrumentalists of the day, Casals, Huberman, Feuermann, Morini, Elman, Auer and Ysaÿe, and performed under the batons of Dorati, Gabrilowitsch, Mengelberg and Nikisch.
Until 1914 Friedman lived in Berlin but after the First World War he settled in Copenhagen. Friedmans first visit to America was in 1920 and in April 1923 he made his first records for the American Columbia Company. After extensive and exhaustive touring, the onset of the Second World War meant Friedman had to move again, as Scandinavia was not a safe home for him. The Australian Broadcasting Commission invited him for a tour and during the early 1940s he played and broadcast regularly in Australia and New Zealand. Partial paralysis of his left hand made him retire in 1943 (he was only just over sixty) and he died in Sydney in January 1948.
Probably Friedmans most famous recordings are the set of a dozen Chopin Mazurkas he recorded for the Columbia Company in London in 1930. These classic recordings are imbued with Polish spirit and are a lesson in the subtleties of rhythmic rubato. Although the performances sound natural and inspired, the recordings of this selection of Mazurkas were fraught with difficulties. On 10th October 1929 Friedman recorded two takes of each Mazurka and three of Op.63 No.3 and Op.67 No.2, but these were all rejected, so on the 15th October he tried two more takes of Op.7 and three more of Op.67 No.4 and Op.68 No.2. All were rejected, and it was not until February 1930 that he was able to record again all the twelve Mazurkas, two takes of each side. For some reason all of these sides were rejected; so far Friedman had recorded forty sides of Mazurkas, none of which were approved for release.
Seven months later on 13th September 1930, Friedman recorded two or three more takes of each side and from this session a take of each was approved, with the exception of Op.41 No.1. Four days later at the end of a session where he recorded some of Mendelssohns Songs without Words, Friedman made two more takes of this Mazurka and approved the last take nine. The fact that Friedman made seven, eight and in some cases nine takes of each Mazurka leads one to question why this was the case. Could he really have been dissatisfied with his performances after six or more attempts? Friedman was a very impulsive and spontaneous player and sometimes his playing could sound exaggerated as a critic commented in 1928: "This exaggeration of speed, which appeared again in the Chopin group, where several times he rushed an accelerando in a way that destroyed its own effect, had counterparts in other exaggerations of dynamic gradation and expression. The difference between piano and forte was extreme
In the days of recording 78s problems were often caused by the recording process itself; even if an artist approved a side for release, if it was not technically acceptable to the engineers it would not be published. As Bryan Crimp has discovered, the reasons for so many attempts at recording these twelve Mazurkas were purely technical. In fact, the recordings from the first session of October 1929 were approved by Friedman, but the engineers described the surfaces as rough and snappy, so the sides were not released. Although the first few sessions were recorded in the acoustically superior Central Hall, Westminster, the sides that were eventually published were recorded in Columbias Petty France studios.
Some of the earlier takes have survived as test pressings and in the case of Op.41 No.1 the approved take was published in Britain, but in America take two from the first session of October 1929 was published so a comparison can be made.
At the end of January 1928 Friedman was in London where he gave a recital at the Royal Albert Hall in which he played Mozarts Rondo in A minor, Brahms Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel and a Chopin group. Columbia unfortunately did not ask him to record the Mozart or Brahms but instead asked for encore pieces and arrangements. The recording of Glucks Gavotte in an arrangement by Brahms comes from a recording session of 9th February 1928, a session that also included a recording of Friedmans own Barcarolle that was not issued. Friedman as arranger of Gluck was recorded the next day in the guise of the Minuet from the Judgement of Paris and a few weeks later he recorded his arrangement of Schubert titled Alt Wien. Liszt had arranged some of Schuberts music as nine Soirées de Vienne, Valses-Caprices daprés Franz Schubert and Friedman published two in similar vein as Alt-Wien zwei Walzersuiten nach Tanzen von Franz Schubert bearbeitet von Ignaz Friedman. They were published in 1928 (the year of the recording) and both are heard, one on each side of the original disc. As in Friedmans inimitably Polish Mazurkas one can again hear Friedmans natural and instinctive rhythm, this time of old Vienna, and it is a great pity that his recordings of his own arrangements of Strauss Waltzes made in 1931 have not survived.
It is interesting to hear Friedman speak briefly in a New Zealand radio broadcast, but sad to think that of the many recitals and concertos he recorded for Australian and New Zealand radio, none have survived.
© Jonathan Summers 2002
In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMGs Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marstons name is synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs. Opera News calls his work revelatory, and Fanfare deems him miraculous. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophones complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mints Arturo Toscanini issue and BMGs Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy. Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932. In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on recordings released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by lifting the voices off his old 78rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.
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CHOPIN: Mazurkas (Friedman) (1928-1930)