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Leff Pouishnoff: now there’s a name to conjure with. An artist of popular status during his life (1891-1959), he was the first pianist to appear on television. He also gave the premiere of the revised version of Rachmaninov’s Fourth Concerto in 1928 and was a great favourite at the Proms. Genial, white-haired and aristocratic, he conformed to the image of the Romantic Russian virtuoso and was praised by one wag as ‘a pianist who could play Bach at breakneck speed without breaking his neck.’ Announcing that he would like to play Chopin’s Four Ballades without intervening applause, he also apologised to the ladies for treading on their toes as he wove his way through the audience to the piano. Pouishnoff was a pianist with a sense of occasion.

Here on this two-CD album there are flashes of genuine musical quality, notably in Liszt’s Gnomenreigen given with sparkle and charm, and in Glazunov’s Theme and Variations, one of the few substantial pieces among a jackdaw’s nest of trinkets and gew-gaws much in the fashion of the times. Elsewhere, much of the playing is diffi dent and ill-focused and it would be wise to draw a veil of over his Schubert. He reduces the great G major Sonata to salon terms – skittish and superficial. In Debussy’s Arabesque No 2, the music loses much of its piquancy at such a hectic pace. His Chopin makes you wonder at his acclaim.

The story of Pouishnoff’s early success and later decline and fall is told in the notes, and there is an additional essay by APR’s Mike Spring on ‘the mystery of Pouishnoff’s Saga recordings.’ Presentation and re-mastering are, as always from this source, outstanding.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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