DEBUSSY: Préludes, Book I (Danseuses de Delphes, La cathédrale engloutie. La danse de Puck. Minstrels. La vent dans la plaine). La plus que lente. Esampes (La soirée dans Grenade). Children's Corner (Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. Jimbo's Lullaby. Serenade for the Doll. The Snow is Dancing. The Little Shepherd. Golliwog's Cake Walk). D'un cahier d'esquisses.
Claude Debussy, pianist (recorded Nov. 1, 1913 for M. Welte & Soehne)
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Méisande (Mes longs cheveux). Ariettes Oubliees (Green, L'ombre des arbres, Il pleure das mon coeur).
Mary Garden, soprano; Claude Debussy, pianist (recorded 1904 for G & T).
PIERIAN 0001 (M) (F) TT: 49:02
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GRANADOS: Goyescas (Los requiebros. Coloquio en la reja. El fandango de candil. Quejas o la Maja y el ruiseñor). Danzas españolas (Andaluza, Valenciana, Melancólica). Valses poéticos. SCARLATTI-GRANADOS: Sonata No. 9 in B Flat
Enrique Granados, pianist ( recorded 1913 for M. Welte & Soehne) (Scarlatti in two versions, one for Welte, the other an Odeón acoustic recording)
PIERIAN 0002 (M) (F) TT: 54:49
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RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales. Sonatine (first and third movements only, recorded 1913 for Welte-Mignon). Miroirs (Oiseaux tristes. La Vallée des cloches). Pavana pour une Infante defunte (recorded 1922, 1928 and 1922 for Duo-Art). Boléro (recorded 1930 for Polydor)
Maurice Ravel, pianist/conductor; Lamoureux Orchestra
PIERIAN 0013 (mono) (F) TT: 51:49
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CHOPIN: Scherzo, Op. 31. Nocturne, Op. 48. Scherzo, Op. 20. Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. Waltz, Op. 70 No. 1. Waltz, Op. 64 No. 1. Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 2. BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens (arr. Rubinstein). MOSZKOWSKI: La Jongleuse, Op. 52 No. 4. Fruehling, Op. 57 No. 5. SCARLATTI-TAUSIG: Pastorale/Capriccio. BROCKWAY: Serenade. RUBINSTEIN: Barcarolle, Op. 30 No. 1. SCHUTT: Croquis et Silhouettes, Op. 87 No. 4. MENDELSSOHN: Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 62 No. 4. CHAMINADE: Le Retour, Op. 134. BRAHMS: Rhapsody, Op. 119 No. 4. d'ALBERT: Suite, Op. 1 (Gavotte and Musette). BACH-TAUSIG: Organ Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, pianist (recorded 1908-1924 for Welte-Mignon)
PIERIAN 0003/4 (2 CDS) (mono) (F) TT: 69:37 & 62:39
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Telarc has issued two CDs of Ampico piano roll recordings by Sergei Rachmaninoff (see REVIEW) featuring Wayne Stahnke's highly successful computer-processed transfers of information on the originals. These have the distinct advantage of playback on a superb Bösendorfer 290SE concert grand with the resulting "performances" digitally recorded on the highest quality equipment.

These Pierian releases have a different approach which goes back to original sources and playback methods. Through the devoted efforts of Kenneth K. Caswell of Austin, Texas, and others equally committed to bringing today's audiences the countless pianistic treasures recorded on piano rolls, we now have the opportunity to hear many of these recordings painstakingly reproduced. They are played back on a carefully restored 1923 Feurich Welte piano, digitally recorded stereophonically in a room with fine acoustics. A detailed explanation of the process is included in each CD booklet. The process works very well indeed proving that the original recordings do have a wide dynamic range and can, when properly transferred, convey subtleties in nuance and dynamics.

The Debussy CD contains all known recordings as listed above—and what a pleasure to hear the composer playing La cathédrale engloutie! A plus is inclusion of Debussy's 1904 Gramophone and Typewriter Co. disk recordings of a brief (1:47) excerpt from Pelléas et Mélisande and three Ariettes Oubliées. Mary Garden, a legendary interpreter of Debussy's music, was in her prime when these recordings were made, although she might not have been aware how sensitive the primitive recording equipment was—several times she can be heard coughing or commenting.

Ravel's CD contains all of his recordings for Welte & Soehne and Duo-Art as well as his famous 1930 Polydor disk recording of Boléro made just two years after the music was composed. The Lamoureux Orchestra has a wonderful "French" sound so appropriate for this music, but their performance is quite ragged, with some strange accents (see REVIEW) that the composer apparently approved. And the tempo is right, a tad more than 16 minutes which is at least a minute longer than most other recordings. Ravel perhaps didn't take his piano roll recordings very seriously; as pointed out in the CD booklet, there are some mistakes including repeated notes, and it is assumed he didn't play the middle movement of Sonatine because it was too difficult.

The Granados recordings, recorded in 1913 three years before the composer drowned in the English channel when the British ship Sussex was torpedoed by the Germans, are valuable for their sense of improvisation. Lengthy detailed CD notes are provided by Douglas Riva who is in the process of recording all of the composer's piano music for Naxos.

Of major importance for collectors is this twin-CD set of recordings by Australian-born American pianist Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler (1860-1927) who studied with Theodore Leschetizky. She enjoyed a highly successful career with many solo recitals as well as appearances with major orchestras in New York, Berlin, Chicago, London and Vienna. Small in stature, Zeisler amazed audiences with her power and energy; Anton Rubinsein said he had never heard his Concerto No. 4 played "with such perfection." She didn't like the acoustic recording process but did have three sessions for Welte-Mignon, in 1908 and 1912 in Freiburg, and in 1924 in New York. These CDs contain major works of Beethoven and Chopin as well as an assortment of lighter works including salon pieces by Moszkowski and Chaminade. This set gives collectors their only opportunity to hear Zeisler.

The next issue in the series will be a CD devoted to performances by Alexander Scriabin, with many more recordings by famous pianists of the past, all artfully reproduced from Welte-Mignon originals, planned as well.

R.E.B. (October 2003)