Guiomar Novaes is a favorite of mine, back from my days of imprinting via vinyl of various key repertory, through the fairly thorough representation of her discography on CD (don’s miss the wonderful 2 CD set of Schumann recordings on the Musical Concepts label!). Her Chopin Waltzes and Falla Nights in the Gardens of Spain were particular benchmarks in my young listening years. Before I was 10 years old had a Vox sampler (or Voxample!) lp entitled “This is Novaes” which contained excerpts from both lps I’m presenting today. I particularly enjoyed the last movement of the Beethoven concerto, and was disappointed that the earlier version conducted by Klemperer was chosen for CD reissue…not that the earlier version is unworthy, but I had never managed to find a copy of the complete Swarowsky conducted performance!
Perhaps the theme of this post should be the great, and the not so great! The Beethoven showcases everything I love about Novaes’ playing: beautiful singing tone and tonal sensitivity coupled with an ample supply of gutsiness, and a pragmatic balance between instinctive musicality and intelligent observation of the musical text. It’s not “intellectual” Beethoven (and often not “urtext” either…listen to the final arpeggio of the concerto, continuing up the octave!), but it adds up to a tremendously satisfying view and realization of the work, even if a few eyebrows may be raised by those brought up on versions in which the Andante con moto 2nd movement is less “moto” and more philosophically searching. I’m not sure why she recorded the concerto again so soon after the Klemperer version, but I’m certainly glad she did!
So, what about the Debussy? I wanted to share it because there is no digital era reissue of it, but on many levels it’s not a success, I’m afraid. Levels indeed…I’m not sure at which stage the ruinous dynamic compression was applied, perhaps in the original recording, or perhaps in the cutting, but it’s certainly the worst sounding of all of her Vox recordings. Interestingly, the lead-out groove area reveals a “RVG” stamped onto it, so the cutter was legendary Jazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder! What about Novaes? There’s a rather infamous sound byte which exists among private collectors from one of her Vox sessions, at which she thought she was going to record retakes of repertory from a previous session. When informed that she was to consider that project finished, and not so gently requested to start on fresh repertory, she flies into a verbal rage, all the while playing Chopin’s Barcarolle (in several different keys!). I wonder if she had similar thoughts about the Debussy sessions? Frankly, there SHOULD have been some retakes, as much of the playing is tentative, and there are numerous details that should not have been left “as is”, in my opinion. Perhaps this was not repertory that Novaes had lived with enough, because there are some rather egregious score reading gaffes that she did not catch. For example, in Les collines d’Anacapri, at 17 seconds in she misreads the divided stems which should be in rhythmic unison, and played both hands apart. At the 2:54 mark she incorrectly reads the high register whole tone cluster….oddly the same mistake is made by Cortot, so perhaps there is an error in early editions? Voiles has a curious rhythmic misreading at 1:26. Danseuses de Delphes has a strange interpretation of the off beat chords (starting at 1:56), but I’m more inclined to see that as an conscious interpretive decision rather than a misreading, odd as it is. At other times, there ARE certainly wonderful moments, and the fact that she has a fresh approach pays dividends, but I have a feeling that she needed to live with this repertory a bit longer before committing it to disc. Oddly, when Novaes first went to Paris to study, she won first place in a competition at the Conservatoire. Among the jurors were Faure, Moskowski, and Debussy! Perhaps she did not include works by the latter!
Thanks to Ward Marston for his transfer of the Beethoven lp (and thanks to Donald Manildi and IPAM for the loan of the lp). I transfered the Debussy from Ward’s lp.
Beethoven: Concerto in G Major, Op. 58
Beethoven: Sonata No. 14 in C# Minor, Op. 27, No. 2, “Moonlight”
Guiomar Novaes, piano
Hans Swarowsky, conductor
Pro Musica Symphony, Vienna
Vox PL 8530 (released 1954)
Debussy: Preludes, Book 1
Guiomar Novaes, piano
Vox PL PL 10.180 (released 1956)