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‘There are the notes, there is what is behind the notes, and there is what is between the notes.’ What hasn’t been said about Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948), the Polish pianist of small hands and 2,800 concerts who died displaced in Sydney? This remastered CD collection returns to the catalogue Danacord’s legendary 1985 LP set, supervised by Allan Evans with transfers by Seth Winner.

Covering a repertory from ‘prepared piano’ Scarlatti and Mozart to Grieg’s Piano Concerto (with Philippe Gaubert), Friedman bridged the transition between acoustic and electric 78s, principally in London at Petty France or Abbey Road. Not all matrices, however, were approved or issued, in particular a 1925 Grieg with Hamilton Harty and a 1927 Emperor with Henry Wood. Transcription discs of his Australian and New Zealand broadcasts (1940-43), including a Liszt Sonata, are lost – possibly destroyed by his widow (Tolstoy’s grandniece), dumped by the ABC in a landfill site, or recycled into highway asphalt... Accounts vary.

Friedman’s finest performances are intimate and mellow (he was a Blüthner man), revealing a passion for lyric line, inner voicing, phrasing and cadence, frequently cushioned by subterranean added basses, sensuous and darkly velvet in pianissimo, epic and ardent in fortissimo. Drummed home early by Leschetizky, quality of tone and liberation of the barline mattered. His dynamic palette was thespian.

Detractors object to Friedman’s pianistically frayed surges and precipitous aftermaths, his freedom with the text and quixotic extremes of tempo and rhythm. Closer examination, however, reveals an aristocratic style of playing steeped in culture, its pulse and colour redolent of an era. ‘The personality of the artist,’ he believed, ‘is what creates life in music.’

No player these days would risk his Chopin A-flat Polonaise – a tsunami of leonine ‘orchestration’, not so much jumping fences as tearing through them, each error, arrival and departure high on abandon. Who, on the other hand, would refuse the swagger of his Liszt Second Hungarian Rhapsody, two minutes quicker, with less cadenza, than Rachmaninov’s tamer, more circumnavigated account?

In a 1940 NZ NBS talk (misattributed to 1941, one of several booklet slips), Friedman took a modernist view of Chopin’s standing. His mazurka-poems, far from miniaturistic, plumb a language and syntax cosmically different from others. The miraculous one-take Nocturne in E-flat major Op 55/2 is quietly seductive, while the au revoir of the ‘Butterfly’ Etude in G-flat Op 25/9 can only raise a smile. Beethoven’s Moonlight and Kreutzer Sonatas (the latter with Huberman) are weighty, a profound engine and expressive heart driving the Kreutzer. The Viennese excursions – Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, Mendelssohn’s Gondola Songs – linger smokily. For Friedman, every page was a door to an infinity of feelings and beyonds.

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Piano International, 2020 - ©Rhinegold Publishing