Czerny-Stefańska Concert Tours Germany MELOCLASSIC

Halina Czerny-Stefańska (piano)
Concert Tours in Germany 1958-1971
rec. 1958-1971
 [79 + 74]

I became aware of Halina Czerny-Stefańska, perhaps like many others, when it was announced that a recording of Chopin’s first piano concerto, supposedly by Dinu Lipatti, was in fact by a Supraphon disc made by Czerny-Stefańska. Whatever the reasons that listeners, including Lipatti’s widow, incorrectly identified the playing it is a testament to Czerny-Stefańska’s art that she should be mistaken for a pianist who was and remains so highly thought of by so many musicians. She was born into a musical family in Kraków and it was her father, thought to be a descendent of Carl Czerny, who gave her her first lessons. Her main teachers were Józef Turczyński, a student of Busoni and Essipova, in Warsaw and Zbigniew Drzewiecki back in Kraków though as part of a prize in a national competition she also spent time with Alfred Cortot and his assistant in Paris. When Turczyński first heard 12 year old Halina play he said she has musical gift verged on genius, adding this child can become our national pride in a few years, a statement that came true when she took joint first prize in the 1949 International Chopin Competition. 

The internet appears to disagree about her repertoire – one source says it was not large, not even extending to all of Chopin’s works whilst another describes it as extensive. In addition to Chopin’s first Concerto she recorded his Nocturnes, Mazurkas, Polonaises and Préludes, concertos by Mozart, Beethoven and Grieg and a recital of baroque pieces. I notice one odd RCA Victor LP coupling Chopin played by Czerny-Stefańska with Beethoven’s Apassionata played by Nicolai Medtner. Meloclassic brings us rare radio studio recordings of some of the pieces she recorded commercially with the added bonus of concertos by Liszt and Mendelssohn and Tryptyk written by her Polish contemporary Roman Maciejewski. The earliest recordings date from 1958 and feature three short Chopin works including a richly rolling Nocturne in E minor full of contrast that ably demonstrates her sense of line and strength of purpose; this is not sentimental Chopin for all the delicacy that she sometimes finds and she gives all the notes real depth with a deftly judged rubato. The last recording here, made in 1971, is also Chopin, his E minor Concerto. There are a couple of slight ensemble issues along the way, mostly because the orchestra don’t always respond quickly enough to Czerny-Stefańska’s more spacious moments and little accelerandi in more lyrical sections, but on the whole this is a robust performance if lacking that final bit of flair. Some of the fingerwork, especially in the finale is a little heavy handed though she does find a leggiero touch at times and gives each of the opening movement’s themes a different character. The Liszt E flat Concerto, recorded in 1964 suits her temperament well; this positively fizzes with energy and Czerny-Stefańska brings flair and character to each section. I could listen to the singing line in the quasi adagio over and over; I love the improvisatory quality that she brings to all the cadenzas and recitative-like passages though this is no capriciousness – there is always a strong sense of direction in her phrasing. Bravura passages are played with a contrasting mix of strength and delicacy by turns – just listen to the delight she takes in the C sharp minor figuration after the impassioned second theme. The Mendelssohn is every bit as vivacious and soloist and orchestra under Schmidt-Isserstedt bring a marvellous romantic sweep to this effervescent work. As with the Liszt the virtuosic writing holds no fears for Czerny-Stefańska especially in the finale; she earns her right to join the orchestra in the final two chords.

In the previous year she performed the Grieg Piano Concerto, a work she recorded commercially around the same time. It is a gigantic reading, romantic in every way, with a wonderful sound and fabulous support from the Berlin players. The first movement cadenza is remarkable in every way and she manages to play the ffff grand iteration of the theme contained within with not the slightest hint of banging as if the piano was built just for that moment. A selection of baroque miniatures rounds off this recital opening with a Rameau group from his stately sarabande and touching les tendres plaintes to the more vigorous tamborin  and gavotte. These are given unashamedly characterful performances and sound wonderful here. After a humorous la poule there are three Scarlatti sonatas where Czerny-Stefańska revels in the sprightly dance elements. Rounding off this baroque selection is Tryptyk by Roman Maciejewski, a Pole who studied with Kazimiersz Sikorski and Nadia Boulanger and spent much of his life outside of his homeland, mostly in Sweden where he died in 1998. The piece is in three short movements; preludium is an heroic and, in this context, apt response to Scarlatti’s writing whilst intermezzo features a bleak melody line that has hints of Bach in its emotional depth. Neither prepare one for the joviality and grand good humour of the fugue. The booklet notes by Michael Waiblinger, excellent as always, are silent concerning the music but it seems clear that this piece is an homage to Bach and perhaps other composers of the period and a very effective one at that.

Having previously only heard the odd track by Czerny-Stefańska I was delighted to have this wonderful cavalcade of concertos and solos presented here in such vivid sound and offer my thanks and congratulations to Meloclassic for the hard work and effort put into bringing these valuable old recordings to life.

Rob Challinor

Availability: Meloclassic

Franz Liszt
Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major S.124 (1835-56)
Staatskapelle Berlin, Heinz Fricke
rec. 18th June, 1964 at Staatsoper, Berlin
Edvard Grieg 
Piano Concerto in A minor Op.16 (1868)
Rundfunk SO Berlin, Otakar Trhlik
rec. 7th/8th April, 1962 at Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, Berlin
Felix Mendelssohn 
Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.25 (1831)
NDR SO, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
rec. 24th/25th February, 1963 at Musikhalle, NDR, Hamburg 
Frédéric Chopin 
Nocturne in E minor Op.72 No.1 (1827)
Waltz in B minor Op.69 No.2 (1829)
Prelude in A flat major Op.28 No.17 (1836)
rec. 25th September, 1958 at Landesfunkhaus, NDR, Hannover

Frédéric Chopin

Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor Op.11 (1830)
Rundfunk SO, Rolf Kleinert
rec. 4th/5th February, 1971 at Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, Berlin
Jean-Philippe Rameau 
Le Rappel des Oiseaux
Les tendres plaintes
La Poule
Domenico Scarlatti 
Sonata in D minor K.9
Sonata in D major K.430
Sonata in C major K.159
Roman Maciejewski 

rec. 27th February, 1963 at Studio NDR, Hamburg