MOSZKOWSKI From Foreign Lands - Rediscovered Orchestral Works
Why concert promoters and record labels have such trouble with Moszkowski I’ll never know, especially his once-celebrated orchestral music. For instance, not a single item from this disc has ever featured in the BBC’s wide-ranging, inclusive Proms, with the exception of the work that made Moszkowski’s fortune, the five Spanish Dances, Op 2. These have been played – just once, in 1895. (The Malagueña from his 1892 opera Boabdil, sadly not included here, was so popular that it was played in every Proms season from 1899 till 1931, sometimes three times in a single year, but never since.) Fashions and Proms directors change. Today it is left almost entirely to pianists – from Hofmann and Horowitz to Hamelin and Hough – to keep his name alive.
So it is a pleasure merely to have the repertoire on this disc with its four world premieres (nine separate pieces lasting 30 minutes). One of these, Fackeltanz (‘Torch Dance’), is a delightfully turned earworm, as is the Habanera (an orchestral version of No 3 from the set of New Spanish Dances, Op 65). Hearing these works for the first time, the performances will strike one as really rather good, capturing all the typical charm and rhythmic exuberance of the composer. Yet, when it comes to the more familiar titles, doubts set in – not enough to spoil one’s enjoyment, let me underline, but not all the playing is as spirited as it might be. The Six Airs de ballet from Don Juan and Faust sound a bit rehearse-record to me, while the tempi adopted for the aforementioned Op 12 Spanish Dances are enervating compared to Ataúlfo Argenta’s classic 1957 recording with the LSO (Decca, 7/57), and also in From Foreign Lands, whether it be Antoni Wit with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (in an airier acoustic – Naxos, 2/99) or the lively Berlin Staatskapelle with Clemens Schmalstich and Armas Järnefelt sharing the podium in 1929 (HMW, 6/31) – before Moszkowski’s star had begun to fade.