BEETHOVEN:  Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata."  LISZT:  Sonata in B Minor, Op. 5
Stanley Babin, pianist  Sound Dynamics Recording

LISZT-HAAS:  Sonata in B Minor, Op. 5.  STRAVINSKY-HAAS:  Le Sacre du Printemps
Bernhard Haas, organ
FERMATE FER 20009 (F) (DDD) TT:  66:48

Here are two fascinating recordings, if for different reasons. The first is a solo recording by a major pianist who has been unjustly neglected over the years. Stanley Babin was born in 1932 in Latvia, moving to Palestine the following year. When he came to New York he studied with Artur Schnabel during the famed pianist's final year (Babin was his youngest pupil). After that he studied at the Curtis Institute and began his concert career which has included performances with many major orchestras including the Berlin, New York and Israel Philharmonics. With the latter, Zubin Mehta conducting, he premiered his own piano concerto. To my knowledge, his only currently available recording is a spectacular performance of the Piano Concerto No. 2 of American composer Lee Hoiby, released in 1996, with the Slovak Radio SO conducted by Robert Stankovsky (MMC  2038)—hard to find, but worth the effort (it also contains solo piano music of Hoiby played by the composer)..

Now, thanks to Sound Dynamics, we have this live performance of Beethoven's Appassionata recorded in concert August 1, 1992. It's a massive reading of great power clearly showing Babin's work with Schnabel. This is craggy Beethoven at his best. Liszt's Sonata is equally imposing—the manifold technical obstacles are tossed off withgreat ease in a majestic reading. This was recorded in studio sessions July 31, 2000.  Recorded and engineered by Pierre Paquin (responsible for many fine LP/tape CD transfers), the sound is at once immediate, full and satisfying.

The second recording is Fermate's issue of the Liszt coupled with The Rite of Spring, both in transcriptions by organist Bernhard Haas who wrote them for an organ "having power and brightness as well as a straight, unveiled feature...strong, blaring reed pipes are to pre-dominate the mixtures..."  Haas found just what he wanted—the Kleuker & Steinmeyer Organ of Tonhalle Zürich.  For this listener, it is not a pleasant listening experience. Stravinsky's masterpiece, in the composer's own transcription for two pianos is effective.  The score contains numerous percussive effects which can be replicated on two pianos but cannot be produced by an organ. The huge organ's  aggressive, loud reed pipes make decidedly grating sounds—and melodic lines get blurred.  Liszt's sonata fares no better. A fine pianist can create a wider range of sounds and a more profound musical result than heard here. One can respect Haas for attempting this, but the end result is a mockery of what Liszt and Stravinsky wrote. Organ fanatics might find this intriguing, but few others.  The sound, per se, is splendid, vividly conveying every rasping sound.

R.E.B.  (September 2002)