Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

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Rach3
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Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by Rach3 » Thu Aug 16, 2018 7:13 pm

I have his Vanguard Classics cd of Opa. 109-111. Wonderful and cheap now at Amazon -US :

https://tinyurl.com/yckzo3ge

Re-heard tonight. One can hear the varying influences of his teachers Friedman, Hess,Friedberg. The liner notes dont give the recording date, other than one can conclude had to be between his Carnegie recital of 1965 , which the notes say triggered Vanguard's offer to him to record all the LvB sonatas , and his death in an auto accident in 1977 ( he only had recorded 22 of the sonatas by then ). My Vanguard was remastered in 1992, released 1993 ; there is a later 2-cd set and a later box. As with all here, I have several of these, but very glad have Hungerford's, which are at YT, FWW.

jbuck919
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Re: Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Aug 16, 2018 9:40 pm

I certainly hope that our Donald Isler sees this immediately, though he would already know about the offering. Rach3 may not know this, but Hungerford was his main piano teacher, and I don't think Don's ever gotten over his untimely death in an accident.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Holden Fourth
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Re: Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by Holden Fourth » Thu Aug 16, 2018 10:15 pm

If Hungerford had been able to complete the 32 they might well have been considered as one of the 'ultimate' set of the LvB PS, like Annie Fischer's or Wilhelm Kempff's (mono) are today. I have all 22 plus some repeats on the KASP label.

Donald Isler
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Re: Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by Donald Isler » Fri Aug 17, 2018 10:20 am

Always glad to see interest in Hungerford!

In a 1969 High Fidelity article Harris Goldsmith, having listened to the first records of several pianists who were preparing to record all of the Beethoven sonatas for the 1970 bicentennial of Beethoven's birth, said that he wouldn't be surprised if the Hungerford set ultimately came off with top honors.

The Op. 109 and 111 LP was one of the earlier Vanguard recordings, made about 1968, before I started attending his recording sessions. The LP which included Op. 110 was made around 1970. The evening he finished recording that sonata I remember him saying, with satisfaction "Well, if I drop dead tomorrow at least I've recorded the last three Beethoven sonatas!"

(As some people already know) KASP Records (my record label) has released two live Hungerford recitals on CD, and our next project will be a DVD release of the only known Hungerford video, in which he plays the Beethoven G Major Concerto. I hope that will be out within a few months.

If there's any interest I can copy here an Isler's Insights article I wrote some time ago about attending the Hungerford recording sessions.
Donald Isler

Rach3
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Re: Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by Rach3 » Fri Aug 17, 2018 11:20 am

Donald Isler wrote:
Fri Aug 17, 2018 10:20 am
If there's any interest I can copy here an Isler's Insights article I wrote some time ago about attending the Hungerford recording sessions.
Such a copy , if possible, would be very much appreciated. The performances on the Vanguard recordings are very special. 109 and 110 are my fav LvB Sonatas. I also regard the pianism of Friedman,Hutcheson, and Friedberg very highly. Many thanks in advance.

Donald Isler
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Re: Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by Donald Isler » Fri Aug 17, 2018 11:42 am

Isler’s Insights

The Hungerford Recording Sessions

Between 1967 and 1976 Bruce Hungerford recorded one LP each of music by Schubert, Chopin and Brahms, and was working his way through the complete 32 sonatas of Beethoven for Vanguard Records. That he insisted on learning each work seven times before performing or recording it, and that he also decided to redo sessions he was not happy with did not speed up the process. At the time of the January 1977 auto accident in which he died (caused by a drunk driver) ten of the Beethoven sonatas had still not been recorded. These included the Hammerklavier, which he had also never performed, though it seemed he had been practicing it, as the music was found on the music rack of his piano after the accident.

The Schubert LP and the first two discs of Beethoven, one with Op. 109 and 111, the other with the Tempest and Pathetique sonatas, were made first. After that, around 1970, he was able to invite more friends and students to attend the recording sessions. And so, from then on, I was fortunate to attend all, or almost all of these sessions. The Hungerford “fan club” sat in a large room together with the recording engineer (usually Robert Lurie, but for awhile Joanna Nickrenz) and watched, though a window, as Bruce, at the far end of the next, soundproof room, played.

Among the other people who attended regularly were Anne Seibert, a piano teacher from New Jersey who studied with Bruce, Lila and Norman Roth, and my parents. Another interesting personality who sometimes came was William Finholm, whose talent at rebuilding pianos Bruce admired. But Mr. Finholm had an attitude which was interesting, and perhaps not that sympathetic to performers. He would talk about how he would get a piano into perfect shape, but then a pianist would come along and hasten its deterioration by PLAYING it!

Another regular was Bruce’s mother, a charming Australian lady in her eighties with a quiet sense of humor. On one occasion Bruce, who, was quite good about keeping his emotions under control, and who never used profanity, was in a rut, trying over and over to get a passage right. (I think it was the octave section in Beethoven’s Andante Favori, which was originally planned as the slow movement of the Waldstein Sonata.) He finally started calling out “Damnation!” every time he made a mistake, after which he’d call out the next take number, without waiting for the recording engineer to do so, and proceed to play. “I don’t know where he learned such language!” said his mother, with a straight face.

Everyone who has made recordings knows what a humbling situation it is. The microphone is not a friend who will do you any favors. It honestly reveals your every weakness and imperfection. In addition, other unexpected factors can cause problems at recording sessions. Yes, Bruce, and the piano he played were in a soundproof room. But once, a pipe in that room started to make noises. There was nothing one could do about it but suspend recording until it stopped.

There were several different pianos used for the sessions. Usually it was a Steinway, but I think for one recording a Bechstein was used. Finally Vanguard had a particular Steinway reconditioned for Bruce to use. But, as that was around the time of the accident, I believe he never got to use it. Instead, Miecyzslaw Horszowski used that instrument for his recording of the First Book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Though I have referred to an incident when Bruce got frustrated, the general level of his playing at these sessions (as at his recitals) was extremely high. Most of it sounded like a polished work of art, though he was willing to do take after take, long into the evening, to get everything the best he could. Extremely fast, if that’s what he felt the music demanded, or slow as molasses, if that was called for, and always with a beautiful, round tone, even when there were musical outbursts, he plumbed the depths of the music. One friend put it well when he said that with other pianists playing Beethoven, he thought about the pianist. When Hungerford played Beethoven, he thought of Beethoven.

The standards he suggested for his students were just as high. When I studied the Liszt E-Flat Major Etude he had me listen to Horowitz’s staggering early recording of it. Did I notice that in the octave section in the middle, where it would be “safer” to slow down, Horowitz got faster, he wanted to know? The implication was that if one wasn’t going to play it this well, or better, what was the point of playing it anyway?!?! Not that he wasn’t similarly demanding of himself. Robert Sherman, on his radio program, The Listening Room, once pointed out that Bruce’s recording of the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata WAS faster than Horowitz’s!

Though I’ve been through plenty of recording sessions of my own (including making five solo CD’s) the very expression “recording session” brings first to my mind not my own sessions but those long ago sessions at the Vanguard Studios on West 23rd Street. And the standards, idealism and incredible effort Bruce put into them.

Donald Isler
Donald Isler

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Re: Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by John F » Fri Aug 17, 2018 12:28 pm

I gather, then, that Hungerford never performed the sonata cycle in public. If so, then it was daring of him (and Vanguard) to undertake it on records.
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Donald Isler
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Re: Bruce Hungerford's Beethoven piano sonatas

Post by Donald Isler » Fri Aug 17, 2018 12:42 pm

You are correct that he never performed the whole cycle of the sonatas. He had a group of sonatas which he'd played often, starting when he was much younger, and he learned the rest so he could make the recordings. It might have been different if he'd had a "normal" career, and regular concerts, but he was very unlucky with managers, so never had the opportunities he should have had.

For example, though he lived most of his adult life in this country, and later on was developing a bigger reputation, he was never invited to play with a major American orchestra. And in the end, when things were starting to get better, largely as a result of the reviews for the Vanguard recordings, he was supposed to play a series of Beethoven sonatas at Hunter College (where he had never given a recital) for the newly formed Beethoven Society. But then he died in the accident, and Claude Frank ended up playing those concerts.
Donald Isler

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