It must be nearly a decade since I’ve popped any of pianist Egon Petri’s recordings into the CD player. I’m very pleased to have made his reacquaintance.
I still own the survey of Petri’s complete recordings from 1929-1942 issued on Appian, transferred without gimmickry from 78s by Bryan Crimp — no declicking or denoising, yet still sounding quite good. Petri was a giant among the great “romantic” pianists of the early 20th centuries, though quite a different interpreter than the “showman” Vladimir Horowitz or the the more coloristic, improvisatory Josef Hofmann.
His first recordings — seven sides for Electrola, made in 1929 — constitute the first half of the series’ first CD, and are breathtaking. The elastic tempos Petri employs in in Chopin’s Waltz in A-flat may seem “over the top” by today’s standards, but one almost doesn’t notice by virtue of Petri’s amazingly even articulation, carefully considered voicing, and propulsive rhythmic impetus, all of which take the work out of the salon and place it center stage as an understated showpiece. The remaining sides are short works by Liszt, including Schubert and Wagner song transcriptions that sound idiomatic to the composers and surprisingly un-Lisztian — while the two original works by Liszt, La chasse and Gnomenreigen, could easily be mistaken for Mendelssohn were it not for all of those notes! More Liszt transcriptions and original works recorded from 1936 to 1938 fill out the disc, including thoroughly entertaining performances of the Rigoletto Paraphrase and Waltz from [Gounod’s] Faust that are alternately lyrical and grand.
I’m in the middle of considering what to do with my own very sizable collection of CDs (and less-sizable but still substantial bookcases of LPs and 78s). At least one decision is easy: the Petri sets are keepers, and are being ripped to HD and backup for easy access as I type.