Lost Art Jacob Lateiner Vol 2

Jacob Lateiner (piano)
The Lost Art Of Jacob Lateiner – Volume 2
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ‘Waldstein’ (1803-04)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 (1836)
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Grande Étude de Paganini, S. 141 No. 3 ‘La Campanella’ (1851)
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 (1821)
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110 (1822)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 (1822)
rec. 1972-84
PARNASSUS PACD96081-2 [71 + 67]

In my review of the first volume in this series I offered the hope that Parnassus’ ‘plea for more previously unreleased Lateiner performances is heeded’ (review). Well, it has been heeded and here it is, a twofer that contains four Beethoven sonatas, Ravel, Schumann and Paganini-Liszt. The performances were given during the years 1972-84 and represent him at the height of his considerable powers as a pianist of direct and penetrating insight.

The items in the first disc were recorded at the Frick Collection in New York, other than the Paganini-Liszt which was taped at Hunter College in 1972. The Waldstein was a piece that Lateiner always insisted was a two-movement work, with the slow movement in fact functioning as an introduction to the finale. Whatever you think of that, Lateiner, despite the odd finger slip and the constricted sound – through which one can still hear details of his pedalling – generates a formidable drive and sweeping sense of rhetoric in the opening. He holds the tempo steady in the Rondo before forging ahead; formidable pianism. 

Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales is the only surviving example of Lateiner playing French music. His major achievement here is drawing the waltzes together as a cohesive cycle and not allowing them to splinter through exaggeration or over-emphasis. It makes one wish he had been recorded in Fauré’s Theme and Variations or, indeed, in any Fauré. Fluidity and expressive control mark out his performance of Schumann’s Fantasie, which is not a work to be trifled with. Lateiner, however, proves an excellent exponent, quite up to the technical demands but ensuring his virtuosity is at the service of the music. If he sounds too loud in the finale, that’s probably the recording, which is not professional, more ad hoc. So too is the Paganini-Liszt La Campanella, taped on a hand-held cassette, but still managing to sound good.

On 16 December 1984 he was taped in concert at the Juilliard Theater performing the three late Beethoven sonatas, Opp 109-111. His fluency and colour-conscious pianism is evident in Op.109, as is his clarity, articulacy and precision. He doesn’t employ a wash of pedal as the variations in the final movement draw to a close and the initial theme is reprised, rather he relies on mobile expression and directness. He is similarly crisp and tight in Op.110, relying on his precise articulation and sense of swinging rhythm to generate impulse. In the last sonata he again proves a redoubtable exponent, brisk but not brusque, excavating colour with assiduous musicianship. His technique is heard at its finest in the Arietta where the sense of the music’s direction is at all times paramount. 

Lateiner’s discography is relatively small for a player so distinguished. He was part of the Heifetz-Piatigorsky chamber series of discs, and he also recorded a little for Columbia, Westminster, RCA and Sony (the Elliot Carter Concerto). This second volume in the series of live performances proves as fine as the first, if not finer. Yes, there is audience noise – but what else do you expect from live concerts – and constricted sound in places but it’s worth listening through to the core of Lateiner’s playing, which is individualistic, stripped of perfumery, and absolutely focused.

Jonathan Woolf 

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Recording details
February 1980, Frick Collection, New York: November 1972, Hunter College (Liszt) and December 1984, Juilliard Theater, Juilliard School of Music, New York (Beethoven; Sonatas, Opp 109-111)