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APR’s invaluable series of historic piano recordings continues with a 3-CD album of Frederic Lamond (1868-1948), a Scottish pupil of Hans von Bülow and, briefly, of Liszt (see ‘In Retrospect’, page 31). Of obvious documentary importance, Lamond’s performances embody a tradition that was later replaced by greater concern and respect for the letter of the score, for a personal rather than heavily ‘personalised’ notion of the text.

As a Beethoven specialist, it is hard to see him in the same league as Schnabel (there is an amusing reference to Schnabel’s ‘whipcord style’ in the accompanying notes) who achieved an eloquence that remains the stuff of legends. Similarly, though in polar opposition, Kempff’s Beethoven was of a luminous, indeed, numinous, quality and refinement that belong to another league. Time and again Lamond reminds you that for him a strict adherence to the score (the foundation for fantasy and freedom) would seem an oddly literal and prosaic idea. Try the Appassionata Sonata’s central Andante and you will hear a lack of focus, of an underlying pulse that turns a formal procedure into a loose, baggy rhapsody. His way with Opus 110 comes close to parody, its alternating grandeur and introspection lost in the general free-for-all. The Moonlight Sonata’s opening adagio is both rapid and diffi dent; and where is the mystery in the opening four-note climb in the Tempest Sonata?

In Liszt, Lamond’s ‘Feux follets’ from the Transcendental Etudes is quite without the grace and fluency of Moura Lympany, let alone Richter’s prodigious flight (it is marked Allegretto). There is a drastic slowing down when the going gets tough and in four recordings of ‘Gnomenreigen’ and five of ‘Un sospiro’ the former is quite without the demonic edge of a Cziffra or Earl Wild, the latter devoid of, say, Géza Anda’s ravishing pianistic sheen. True, there is a belated sense of glow and ardour in the Liebestraum No 3, but in Brahms’s B minor Capriccio Op 76, the manner is awkward and hiccoughing, a weak alternative to Rubinstein’s and Perahia’s surpassing wit and elegance.

Readers in love with the past at all cost may claim that I fail to acknowledge the glamour and character of the remote. I recall being roundly chastised by Ronald Stephenson (later a dear friend) for showing a lack of empathy for Paderewski’s recordings. But both Paderewski’s and Lamond’s records came from a time and process that hardly caught their undoubted public charisma. For me the true Golden Age of great pianists came later, with Schnabel, Cortot, Rubinstein, Moiseiwitsch et al, pianists who united an underlying sense of discipline with a poetry that mesmerised and haunted the imagination long after the occasion.

However, Lamond’s performances should be heard by all students, a learning curve in changing times and fashions, leaving much to question and discuss. APR’s transfers are entirely successful and there are photographs of Lamond, dapper at 18, portly in middle age and, in his later years, showing a passing resemblance to Beethoven himself.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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