Sunday, 2 June 2013

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

Jorge Bolet at his favourite Bechstein.

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

Even recent history is full of mysterious and inexplicable events. It baffles the mind that a 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 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 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 9-CD 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, 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 Sonatas. 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 figurative 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 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  (or used to be) available at reasonable prices at the (nonexistent?) sites of The Virtuoso Pianist and Classical Video Rarities. They will nevertheless 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)

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

March 1980, Kingsway Hall, London
Brahms & Reger: Variations on Handel and Telemann

November 1981, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 2

February 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 1

September, 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 3

September/December 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 4

September 1982, Kingsway Hall, London
Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 3 (LSO, Fischer)

March 1983, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 5

October 1983, Kingsway Hall, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. 6

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

March 1984, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
Liszt: Totentanz, Malediction,  Hungarian Fantasia (LSO, Fischer)

March 1985, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol. VII

March/December 1985, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Encores by Chopin, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Moszkowski, Schlözer, Albeniz, Bizet, R. Strauss, Schubert, Godowsky

May 1985, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
Schumann, Grieg: Piano concerti (Berlin Radio Symphony, Chailly)

January 1986, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Schumann: Fantasia, Carnaval

September 1986, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
Chopin: Four ballades, Fantasia, Barcarolle

April 1986, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Franck: Symphonic variations (Concertgebouw, Chailly) + solo piano works (1988)

January 1986, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Rachmaninoff: Chopin variations + Liebesleid, Liebesfreud, Melodie, five preludes (1987)

May 1987, St. Eustache, Montreal
Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 2; Tchaikovsky: Concerto No. 1 (Montreal Symphony, Dutoit)

June 1987, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Chopin: Preludes (complete), Four nocturnes

April 1988, Carolyn Blount Theater, Montgomery
Alabama, USA (Live)
Recital: Mendelssohn, Franck, Liszt (released posthumously)

1988, Schwetzingen, Germany (Live)
Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Liszt, Godowsky, Moszkowski

September 1988, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
Debussy: 16 preludes

February 1989, St. Barnabas' Church, London
Schubert: Sonatas D. 784 & D. 959

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

=== Compilations ===

Liszt: Piano Works (9 CD)
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.

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

Jorge Bolet: The Romantic Virtuoso (4 CD)
Indifferent selection from the Decca years. 
For more details, see here.

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

Concerto Recordings (Decca, 5 CD)
Almost complete Decca recordings for piano and orchestra.
Rachmaninoff's Third from 1982 is omitted.

Liszt: Favourite Piano Works (Decca, 2 CD)
Attractive selection, including Don Juan and the B minor Sonata.

Great Pianists of the 20th Century, Vol. 11: Jorge Bolet II 
(Philips, 2 CD)
For a review, see here.



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.


Jorge Bolet in Concert,  Vol. 1: Frederic Chopin (Marston, 2 CD)
Live recordings, 1963-85. Tracklisting and the fine liner notes are available online. Unfortunately, online rumours for bad sales suggest that there would be no "Vol. 2".

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. Full liner notes and tracklisting available online. For a review, see here.

Video Recordings

1983, Master class on Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto, BBC broadcast
Used to be available from Classical Video Rarities. I suppose it really is, as it was 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)
Used to be available from Classical Video Rarities. I haven’t seen the DVD, but most likely it contains the same performance as on YT (part only):

1984, Edinburgh, Scotland
Rachmaninoff - Concerto No. 2
(BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Berglund)

April 19-20, 1987, Georgia-Pacific Center Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Used to be available from The Virtuoso Pianist. 

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

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

1987, Ripponlea House, Melbourne
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. Parts of it used to be available on YT, now gone.

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

1980s, unknown dates and locations.
Chopin – Ballade No. 3
Kreisler-Rachmaninoff – Liebesleid
Bellini-Liszt – Réminiscences de Norma
Bolet meets Oscar Peterson

Chopin, Kreisler-Rachmaninoff and Bellini-Liszt plus an interview dubbed in French. Better sound and picture than formerly available on CVR.

Norma alone. Incomparable interpretation. Makes all others sound like rushed banging without rhyme or reason.

Miscellaneous videos

Used to be available from Classical Video Rarities. Highlights 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 (both Rachmaninoffs are from the late years), 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. Used to be available on YT, now gone.

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

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