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The name of Adele aus der Ohe – christened Adelheit Johanne Auguste Hermine on 11 February 1861 in Hanover – has all but slipped from even the footnotes of the piano’s history. This is unjust, for she was for a quarter of a century hailed as one of the greatest living pianists. A student of Liszt from the age of 12, she was the soloist in Carnegie Hall’s inaugural concert on 5 May 1891, in which she played Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor Concerto under the composer’s baton – a performance repeated in Moscow when the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony was premiered. As LaWayne Leno’s warm-hearted study of her life reveals, she was a formidable player with such demanding works in her repertoire as the Auber/Liszt Tarantella di bravura and Henry Holden Huss’s B major Concerto.

Devoted to her art and the memory of ‘The Master’, she seems to have had no love life, travelling everywhere with her older sister Mathilde – ‘friend, confidante and probably much more’, confides the author with a nudge. Significantly, Adele all but stopped playing after Mathilde’s early death in 1906. Her life thereafter makes for unhappy reading: she opted for residence in Berlin during the First World War, invested the fortune she had built up in worthless German government war bonds, was crippled by arthritis and left unable to play or even teach, and finally lived on the charity of American friends and financial gifts from the likes of Rachmaninov. Her death in December 1937 must have been a blessed release. There is no need for a second biography of Aus der Ohe but I am heartily glad of this one, which also contains one of her songs and a complete Etude de concert, as well as many concert programmes. Leno has put pianophiles in his debt with this labour of love, rescuing from oblivion a lioness of the keyboard.

JEREMY NICHOLAS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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