Sunday, 2 June 2013

Discography of Jorge Bolet: The DECCA Years (1977-1989)

Jorge Bolet at his favourite Bechstein.

Discography of Jorge Bolet: The DECCA Years (1977-1989)

Even recent history is full of mysterious and inexplicable phenomena. It baffles the mind that pianist of Jorge Bolet’s stature signed his first contract with a major label when he was 64 years old. Unbelievable but true. Whatever the reasons for his much too long and vastly undeserved obscurity, it is indisputably true that his recording legacy for DECCA, made in a little over a decade and until two years before his death, has put Bolet once and for all where he belongs: among the greatest masters of the keyboard from the last century.

Jorge Bolet’s late recordings for DECCA have generated greatly divergent responses from piano connoisseurs, but this is not the place to discuss the matter; I have engaged myself in this foolish and futile activity in several of my reviews of separate discs, and enough is enough. The aim of the following discography is to be as comprehensive and informative as possible, listing all recordings from this period (including one or two not made for DECCA) and as much reliable data about them as can be found on the Internet or in my own collection. It is my hope that such a discography might help those who are captivated by Bolet’s interpretations but are not yet familiar with the real scope of his art.

First, a few preliminary notes.

Jorge Bolet made his first recording for DECCA in October 1977, a selection from Chopin’s waltzes and etudes in Godowsky’s fiendishly difficult and, to say the least, enormously presumptuous arrangements. I daresay it was a likely choice. Bolet did study with Godowsky himself while still a teenager student in the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and he championed his music all his life. Despite the apparent success of the recording and the signing of the contract on the next year, only three LPs more were made in the next four years (Liszt’s Concert Etudes and Don Juan in December 1978; Brahms’ and Reger’s Variations on themes by Handel and Telemann, respectively, in March 1980; and 12 of Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert’s songs in November 1981).

In February 1982, Bolet and DECCA began in earnest the task of preserving the core of his repertoire for the future generations. For the next three years, until March 1985, Jorge made almost all of his highly acclaimed Liszt recordings. Today they are available as a handsome and absurdly low-priced nine-CDs box-set, not to mention several extensive collections. It is these unique renditions of Liszt’s so often misrepresented works, as much as his gruesome concert schedule during the 1980s, that have made Jorge Bolet a household name all over the world. Some superficial critics even regard him primarily as a “Liszt specialist”. I venture to suggest that such an animal doesn’t exist in the first place, for no composer ever showed a greater interest in the music of others than Liszt did and no pianist is quite so stupid as to disregard the Master’s wise example. I do hope this discography (and its first part which is going to concentrate on his early, pre-DECCA, years) would show that Jorge Bolet, though incomparable Lisztian, actually had a much greater if almost exclusively Romantic repertoire.

Again in March 1985, Jorge started recording his celebrated LP with encores. This delicious cocktail of gems from Chopin and Mendelssohn to Moszkowski and Godowsky was finished in December of the same year and has since become one of the most treasured among his late recordings. Until May 1989, less than year and a half before his death and despite serious health issues, Jorge Bolet continued recording a sizable portion of Romantic piano music, both solo and with orchestra, including albums dedicated to Chopin, Schumann, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Franck and Debussy. Almost all of these recordings were studio ones made in London, though occasional recording locations included Montreal (St. Eustache), Berlin (Jesus-Christus-Kirche), San Francisco (Davies Symphony Hall) and Amsterdam (Concertgebouw). There is only one live recording, taped at the Carolyn Blount Theater, Montgomery, Alabama, in April 1988.

Last but not least, a few words about unpublished recordings. Various online rumours indicate that, in addition to Liszt’s orchestration of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie, the 1986 sessions with the London Philharmonic and Georg Solti included also Liszt’s two concertos; literally months before his death Jorge even recorded Chopin’s Second and Third Sonata. Apparently, however, none of these recordings was considered good enough to be released and all of them were shelved, probably for good (and probably in the metaphorical sense of the phrase only).

In addition to studio efforts, there are (probably many) live recordings that wait for their commercial release. Some of these even include an otherwise unavailable repertoire, such as this performance of Schubert’s original Wanderer Fantasie at the Cheltenham Festival in 1984, or this one of Grieg’s Ballade from a London recital in 1987. These are priceless recordings and one may hope, unlikely as it seems, that some fine day they will be released officially. I wouldn't mind some "repetitions" from those concerts, either. For example: three preludes (London, 1987), the Third Concerto (Liverpool, 1985), or Liebesleid & Liebesfreud (London, 1987) by Rachmaninoff.

Even video recordings from those late years exist and are available at reasonable prices, for example at The Virtuoso Pianist or Classical Video Rarities. But these, of course, will be listed in the appropriate section in the end of the discography.

The two parts of the discography are organized roughly in chronological order. In other words, the functional unit is, not a single piece, but a single program, or LP, CD, album, whatever name one wishes to give it. In most cases all pieces from a single program were recorded at the same time; all exceptions are of course noted. Each entry is organised with minimum of written text (date and recording location, short list of contents) and covers of a representative edition as to show further details.

Except in special cases, such as additional material or budget-price reissues, different editions of the same contents are not listed. Despite the numerous repetitions, miscellaneous compilations and box-sets are listed in the end of Audio Recordings. Except when otherwise noted, all recordings were made for DECCA. The sign “+” in the contents denotes, as indicated in round brackets, recordings from different sessions usually made years apart; see the photos for further details.

Audio Recordings

=== Separate Albums ===

October 1977, probably in London?
Godowsky-Chopin: Waltzes, Etudes (selection)

December 1978, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Concert etudes, Don Juan Fantasy + Consolations (1985)
DECCA 417 523-2
Back cover.

Booklet inside.

October 1979, Eastman Theater, Rochester, NY, USA (VOX)
Liszt: Concerti Nos. 1 & 2 (Rochester Philharmonic, Zinman) 
+ Mephisto Waltz No. 1 and Sonata (1960)
Alto ALC 1011
Booklet inside.

March 1980, Kingsway Hall, London
Brahms & Reger: Variations on Handel and Telemann
DECCA 417 791-2

November 1981, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 2
DECCA 414 575-2
Back cover.

Booklet inside.

February 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 1
DECCA 410 257-2

Back cover.

Booklet inside.

September, 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 3
DECCA 410 115-2
Back cover.
Booklet inside.

September/December 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 4
DECCA 410 161-2
Back cover.

September 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 3 (LSO, Fischer)
London 414 671-2
Back cover.

Booklet inside. 
Booklet inside.

March 1983, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 5
DECCA 410 160-2 
Booklet inside.

Booklet inside.

October 1983, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 6
DECCA 411 803-2
Back cover.

Booklet inside. 
Booklet inside.

1983, unknown location (CBS)
Chausson: Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet
(Itzhak Perlman, Juliard Quartet)

March 1984, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
Liszt: Totentanz, Malediction, Hungarian Fantasia (LSO, Fischer)
DECCA 414 079-2
Back cover.

Booklet inside. 
Booklet inside.

March 1985, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. VII
DECCA 414 601-2

Back cover.

Booklet inside.

March/December 1985, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Encores by Chopin, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Moszkowski, Schlözer, 
Albeniz, Bizet, R. Strauss, Schubert, Godowsky
DECCA 417 361-2 
Booklet inside.

Booklet inside.

Budget-price re-issue by Eloquence.

May 1985, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
Schumann, Grieg: Piano concerti (Berlin Radio Symphony, Chailly)
London, original release
DECCA Eclipse 448 235-2, 
budget price reissue
Booklet inside.
Recording details.
NB. Mendelssohn's piece is from the Encores album (1985).

January 1986, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Schumann: Fantasia, Carnaval
DECCA 417 401-2
Booklet inside

Booklet inside.

September 1986, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
Chopin: Four ballades, Fantasia, Barcarolle
London 417 651-2
Booklet inside

Recording details

Portrait of Chopin

April 1986, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Franck: Symphonic variations (Concertgebouw, Chailly) + solo piano works (1988)
DECCA 421 714-2
Booklet inside.

Recording details.

January 1986, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Rachmaninoff: Chopin variations + Liebesleid, Liebesfreud, Melodie, five preludes (1987)
London 421 061-2 
Booklet inside.

Booklet inside.

May 1987, St. Eustache, Montreal
Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 2; Tchaikovsky: Concerto No. 1 (Montreal Symphony, Dutoit)
DECCA 421 181-2 
Booklet inside.

Booklet inside.

June 1987, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Chopin: Preludes (complete), Four nocturnes
London 421 363-2 
Booklet inside.

Booklet inside.

April 1988, Carolyn Blount Theater, Montgomery, Alabama, USA (Live)
Recital: Mendelssohn, Franck, Liszt (released posthumously)
DECCA 436 648-2 
Booklet inside.

Recording details

1988, Schwetzingen, Germany (Live)
Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Liszt, Godowsky, Moszkowski
A rare opportunity to hear Jorge playing Beethoven, and Appassionata at that.

September 1988, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
Debussy: 16 preludes
DECCA 425 518-2 
Booklet inside.

Recording details

Budget-price re-issue by Newton.
Budget-price re-issue by Eloquence.

February 1989, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Schubert: Sonatas D. 784 & D. 959
DECCA 435 837-2 
Booklet inside.

Recording details.
Budget price re-issue.

May 1989, St. Eustache, Montreal
Chopin: Concerti Nos. 1 & 2 (Montreal Symphony, Dutoit)

Recording details.

=== Compilations ===

Liszt: Piano Works (9CDs)
Contains all of Bolet’s Liszt recordings for DECCA listed above – vols. 1-7 (1981-85), the composite 1978/85 album, the works for piano and orchestra with Fischer (1984) and the Norma from 1988 – plus one important addition: Liszt’s orchestration of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie (LPO, Solti, 1986). Excellent liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas, by the way.
DECCA 467 801-2 
Back cover of the box: contents

Liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas.
Liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas.

Liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas.
Liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas.

Liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas.

Liner notes by Jeremy Nicholas.

The Wanderer Fantasie has also been released separately on CD (1989), together with previously released solo-piano pieces. For tracklist and review, see here.

Jorge Bolet: The Romantic Virtuoso (4 CDs)

Indifferent selection from the DECCA years. For more details, see here.
DECCA 478 2374 
Back cover of the box: contents.

Jorge Bolet: The Last Romantic (9 CDs)
Nearly complete non-Liszt recordings for DECCA. For more details, see the postscript here.

Liszt: Favourite Piano Works (DECCA, 2 CDs)
DECCA 444 851-2 
Booklet inside.

Great Pianists of the 20th Century, Vol. 11: Jorge Bolet II 
For more information on the PHILIPS volumes dedicated to Jorge Bolet, see here.
PHILIPS 456 814-2 
Back cover.

CD and booklet.

Tracks listing.

Tracks listing and recording details.

Liner notes by Josef Manhart.

Liner notes by Josef Manhart.

Rare photo from the booklet.

Rare photo from the booklet.

Rare photo from the booklet.

Rachmaninoff: Concertos Nos. 2 & 3, etc. (Eloquence)
A budget-price re-issue of Bolet's complete Rachmaninoff for DECCA (1982, 1986-87).

Chopin: Ballades, Barcarolle, Fantasie, Concertos (Newton)
A budget-price re-issue of two from DECCA's LPs with Chopin (1986 & 1989)

Chopin: Preludes, Ballades 2 & 4, Fantasie
Nice and attractively priced one-disc Chopin selection from the DECCA years.
DECCA 448 985-2  
Booklet inside.

Recording details.

Jorge Bolet in Concert, vol. 1: Frederic Chopin (Marston, 2 CD)
Live recordings, 1963-85, mostly from the pre-DECCA years. Therefore, see the first part of this piece. Tracklisting and the fine liner notes are available online. Unfortunately, online rumours for bad sales suggest that there would be no "vol. 2".
Marston 52035-2 
Booklet inside.

Liszt Illuminated (Marston, 2 CD)
Contains the Valse-impromptu and the three Petrach Sonnets from the rare 1981 Baldwin LP, a live Second Ballade from a 1986 Carnegie Hall recital, and a live Spanish Rhapsody from a Tully Hall recital in 1972. None of these is significantly different than, much less superior to, Bolet's commercial studio recordings made around the same time for Decca and, in the case of the Rhapsody, RCA. Full liner notes and tracklisting are available online. For a review, see here.

Video Recordings

1983, Master class on Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto, BBC broadcast
Available from Classical Video Rarities. I suppose it really is, as stated on the site, “a must for pianists and piano teachers”, but I doubt laymen may profit greatly from it. But I have never understood the very idea of master class anyway. There is ample amount of testimony from professionals who claim to have benefited greatly from Jorge’s singular personality and vast experience. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the DVD does not contain the great interview with Robin Ray recorded at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so now:

1983 or 1984, unknown location
Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 3 
(BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Bryden Thompson)
Available from Classical Video Rarities. I haven’t seen the DVD, but most likely it contains the same performance as on YT (part only):

A fine rendition. Definitely worth having. Makes for an interesting comparison with the 1982 studio recording.

1986, Edinburgh, Scotland
Rachmaninoff - Concerto No. 2
(BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Berglund)

April 19-20, 1987, Georgia-Pacific Center Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Disc 1
CHOPIN: The Four Ballades
LISZT: Ballade No. 2 in B Minor

Disc 2
FRANCK: Prelude, Chorale & Fugue
LISZT: Petrarch Sonnet 104
LISZT: Benediction of God in Solitude
LISZT: Dante Fantasy
LISZT: Venice & Naples (complete)
GODOWSKY: Elegy for the Left Hand Alone
MOSZKOWSKI: The Juggleress
CHOPIN: Nocturne in F#, Op. 15, No. 2

Both DVDs are available for order from The Virtuoso Pianist. Forty bucks if you’re not lucky enough to live in the States. Pricey but worth having. Not region coded. The sound is a little constrained but still fine stereo (Jorge plays a wonderful Baldwin, by the way), the camera work may be a little crude now and then but it does have some awesome moments too (bird’s-eye views, hands close-ups). Jorge is a little past his prime but still incomparable. Both programs were recorded for DECCA, but these live performances are at least as good. Considering the extreme scarcity of Bolet’s videos, these two recitals are priceless. If his artistry has the power to move you, I strongly suggest you “add them to the cart” right away.

1987, Ritornella House, Melbourne

Frederic Chopin
Ballade No. 1, G minor, Op. 23
Nocturne, F sharp minor, Op. 15 No. 2
Nocturne, F minor, Op. 55 No. 1
Ballade No. 4, F minor, Op. 52
Franz Liszt
Years of Pilgrimage: 2. Italy
Petrarch’s Sonnet No. 104
Petrarch’s Sonnet No. 123
Venezia e Napoli:
      I. Gondoliera
     II. Canzona
    III. Tarantella

So far as I know this studio Australian recital has ever been released on DVD in Japan only. It is extremely rare and hard to find. Which is a huge pity, as you can see and hear from the few excerpts available on YT. For example:

1980s, unknown dates and locations.

Chopin – Ballade No. 3
Kreisler-Rachmaninoff – Liebesleid
Bellini-Liszt – Réminiscences de Norma
Bolet meets Oscar Peterson

Available from Classical Video Rarities. Well, the picture is somewhat fuzzy and the sound is rather poor. Despite that, an essential disc for every true fan of Jorge Bolet. There is no indication of the years when these “rarities” were recorded, but I surmise the early 1980s is just about correct. All of them are TV appearances.

Liszt's Norma is worth the price of admission alone! To see Jorge Bolet performing with ease and consummate artistry this awesomely difficult piece is an unforgettable experience, never mind the background noise and the low picture quality. The performance is every bit as fine as his fabulous 1988 live rendition, which in turn is by far the finest ever captured on record. While seeing this priceless video, laymen will for the first time realise what enormous amount of notes, what immaculate craftsmanship is hidden behind Norma’s perfection. Bolet’s effortless execution may convince one that the piece is suitable for beginners.

The show with Oscar Peterson is great and includes, except some fine jazz playing by Oscar, two pieces played by Jorge as only he could: Moszkowski's La Jongleuse and Liszt's famous Liebestraum [sic]. Unfortunately, during the latter the picture and the sound are some half a minute out of sync. Pity. In between there is an interesting impromptu interview with both keyboard masters in which Jorge makes the significant and thought-provoking remark that he has more in common with Oscar than with the purists who constantly accused him of disrespect for the composer’s text.

The disc also contains Liszt's First concerto with horrible sound and picture as well as with Gyorgy Cziffra as soloist that shouldn't have been here at all. It's rather ironic, if not sarcastic, to put on the same disc one of the finest interpreters of Liszt and one of the greatest butchers that so great a music has ever seen on record.

Miscellaneous videos

Classical Video Rarities offers several other “video rarities” from Jorge Bolet’s Indian summer. I haven’t seen them yet but they all look rather promising and include another Rachmaninoff’s Third, this time with the NHK Symphony, a rehearsal footage of Rachmaninoff’s Second with the BBC Scottish Symphony or with the conductor alone, and most tantalisingly of all, a recital from the Indiana University in the 1970s that features Chopin’s Third Sonata, Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses, and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12. All three performances are available on YT:

Exceedingly rare recording of Chopin's Preludes Nos. 4 & 24, apparently recorded in 1988 for a French TV:

P.S. Audio Bonus Track. Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody, Live, Karlsruhe, 3/1978:


  1. "Last but not least, a few words about unpublished recordings. Various online rumours indicate that, in addition to Liszt’s orchestration of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie, the 1986 sessions with the London Philharmonic and Georg Solti included also Liszt’s two concertos; literally months before his death Jorge even recorded Chopin’s Second and Third Sonata. Apparently, however, none of these recordings was considered good enough to be released and all of them were shelved, probably for good (and probably in the metaphorical sense of the phrase only)." I read on another site abou Seven Chopin Nocturnes not issued before...

    Have you, or have someone the final Chopin Sonatas and Seven Nocturnes not previously issued from DECCA? Where I can find them? I was notably interested in these nocturnes recordings. Thank you a lot

    1. I have never head of anyone who actually heard those Chopin sonatas, much less have them. This is the first time I hear about the seven nocturnes. I wonder what other stuff Jorge recorded that still collects dust in the vaults of DECCA.

  2. "Several discs from the last years were not successful. These included the Liszt Concertos with Solti & London Philharmonic. (The Schubert-Liszt Wanderer from the same sessions was issued--not bad, but not top-self Bolet.) The Second and Third Chopin Sonatas, and a disc of seven Nocturnes he had not previously recorded and the Berceuse. These Chopin discs were also made in California in spring 1990--after he had revived from a coma of several weeks duration. I've not heard the sonatas, but I did hear the Nocturnes and found it to be one of the most moving and disturbing piano discs I've ever heard. The Bolet tone was mostly gone-- disconcertingly monochromatic--and technique putting one in mind of the concerts and recordings of Horzowski in his 90s. But, as with those Horzowski miracles, the playing contains perhaps Bolet’s most profound spiritual content--it's irresistible to project the impression that it was the last testament of a great artist thinking long about his own imminent passing."

    1. Thanks for the link. This page has changed a great deal since the last time I visited it. I've registered for membership. By the way, I consider the "Wanderer" with Solti a pretty fine recording.

    2. I already did the same. But I can message, talk or did something to contact the owner of the page. If you can do this, please tell me after. Thanks, Luís