The “Other” Jorge Bolet

Two Jorge Bolets existed for piano mavens in the 1970s and 1980s One was the aristocratic yet rather reserved and diffident pianist of his Decca studio recordings. The other Bolet gave unforgettable recitals, mesmerizing audiences with his poetic, imaginative and vividly communicative virtuosity. I was lucky enough to hear the “other” Bolet on peak form in concert several times, and, believe me, his studio recordings rarely showed what he really could do.

Fortunately many live Bolet performances exist in the form of airchecks, archival recordings and stealth audience tapes (in fact, I taped several Bolet broadcasts during the 1980s and occasionally came up with gold). In 2004 the Marston label released a fantastic live Bolet Chopin compilation in 2004, and now brings out a six CD live anthology called Ambassador from the Golden Age: A Connoisseur’s Selection for the Bolet Centennial (Marston 56003-2). The selections span the pianist’s entire career, and features significant repertoire new to his discography, such as Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, Haydn’s last sonata, Brahms’ Op. 117 Intermezzi, plus one of the most colorful and unified interpretations of Grieg’s Ballade I’ve ever heard.

However, alternative live readings of works that Bolet recorded in the studio prove this set’s biggest revelations. His live versions of Chopin/Godowsky Etudes, for example, sing forth with far more freedom and flexibility. Chopin’s F Minor Fantasy and a generous group of Liszt pieces come alive more drama and dynamism than the studio takes suggest. The Liszt/Donizetti Lucia de Lammermoor and Liszt/Verdi Rigoletto paraphrases from the October 3rd 1970 International Piano Library Benefit at Hunter College once available on limited edition LPs are superbly restored, and are superior to Bolet’s studio counterparts. Two large-scale Godowsky paraphrases new to Bolet’s discography (Weber’s Invitation to the Dance and the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Die Fledermaus) also reveal the pianist at his unfettered peak. Although a 1989 Liszt/Wagner Tannhäuser Overture is slower and less incisive than Bolet’s celebrated live 1974 RCA Carnegie Hall commercial recording, the sense of projection and textural control remains that of an “old school” master. Francis Crociata’s extensive and warmly sympathetic notes provide an insightful and informative context for these recordings, as does an essay by the conductor/pianist and former Bolet student Ira Levin.

Marston releases often are pressed in limited editions of 1000 copies, meaning that when they’re gone, they’re gone. So I strongly suggest that you order ASAP from Marston’s website:

Happy listening!


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