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Though esteemed by his Berlin contemporaries from Artur Schnabel to Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Spivakovsky (1896-1970) left no solo studio recordings. Born in Ukraine, he was a refugee in Australia from the 1930s onward. In the postwar era he toured internationally until a health crisis in 1960 ended his concert career.

Spivakovsky had a strong-minded, craggy approach to performance, ideal for Beethoven. His son Michael recorded his private performances at home, sometimes reportedly when he was unaware. In a series of CD transfers of these and radio recordings, Pristine provides a homogenised sound quality: these are rehearsal documents, personal notations of musical ideas by an artist experimentally favouring extremes in tempo.

Uncompromisingly tragic in conception, at times the emotion conveyed is forlorn or dogged. Béla Bartók had a comparably monumental approach to Beethoven, while. Spivakovsky’s verve also recalls the granitic, no-holds-barred forthrightness of Charles Ives’ private piano recordings. Possibly Spivakovsky’s most representative surviving Beethoven rendition is a Waldstein Sonata, previously issued (Pristine PAKM065).

This CD is well worth hearing as a document, providing a partial echo of what this pianist’s finished public performances must have sounded like. Spivakovsky’s own chaste sternness might serve as model for posthumous evaluation; he recused himself from performing Rachmaninov’s works during the latter’s lifetime because he deemed the composer-pianist’s own versions unsurpassable. Nor, surely, would Spivakovsky have placed these recorded rehearsals ahead of Schnabel’s complete studio cycle of Beethoven sonatas.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing