Bruce Hungerford | Pianist Bruce Hungerford Plays a Live Beethoven Sonata Recital

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Pianist Bruce Hungerford Plays a Live Beethoven Sonata Recital

by Bruce Hungerford

One of the finest live Beethoven piano sonata recitals ever recorded.
Genre: Classical: Beethoven
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 "Pathetique": I. Grave - Allegro di molto e con brio (Live)
8:33 $0.99
2. Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 "Pathetique": II. Adagio cantabile (Live)
5:37 $0.99
3. Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 "Pathetique": III. Rondo: Allegro (Live)
5:23 $0.99
4. Sonata No. 13 in E-Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 1: I. Andante - Allegro (Live)
5:27 $0.99
5. Sonata No. 13 in E-Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 1: II. Allegro molto vivace (Live)
1:52 $0.99
6. Sonata No. 13 in E-Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 1: III. Adagio con espressione (Live)
3:28 $0.99
7. Sonata No. 13 in E-Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 1: Allegro vivace (Live)
5:54 $0.99
8. Sonata No. 25 in G Major, Op. 79: I. Presto alla tedesca (Live)
5:08 $0.99
9. Sonata No. 25 in G Major, Op. 79: II. Andante (Live)
3:26 $0.99
10. Sonata No. 25 in G Major, Op. 79: III. Vivace (Live)
2:10 $0.99
11. Sonata No. 24 in F-Sharp Major, Op. 78: I. Adagio Cantabile - Allegro ma non troppo (Live)
7:06 $0.99
12. Sonata No. 24 in F-Sharp Major, Op. 78: II. Allegro vivace (Live)
3:23 $0.99
13. Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111: I. Maestoso - Allegro con brio ed appassionato (Live)
8:32 $0.99
14. Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111: II. Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile (Live)
21:01 $0.99
15. Prelude in E-Flat Minor from Wtc, Book 1 (Live)
4:56 $0.99
16. Für Elise, WoO 59 (Live)
3:52 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
In a 1969 High Fidelity article, comparing several ongoing complete Piano Sonata cycles being readied for the upcoming Beethoven Bi-Centennial, the noted critic, Harris Goldsmith, wrote “Vanguard’s entry features Bruce Hungerford, a relative dark-horse competitor who, on the basis of his so-far released recordings, may well end up with top honors.”

Although he was not unknown before the early and mid 1970’s, that was the time when the reputation of the Australian-born Hungerford (1922-1977), a student of Ignaz Friedman, Ernest Hutcheson and Carl Friedberg, soared rapidly among music and record lovers. His participation in the 1970 Hunter College (New York) benefit for the International Piano Library (now the International Piano Archives at Maryland, or IPAM) is still recalled by some. He played only a group of Schubert Ländler on a program filled with brilliant works, performed by pianists such as Earl Wild, Jorge Bolet, Raymond Lewenthal, Alicia DeLarrocha and Guiomar Novaes. But the depth, soulfulness, and beauty of his performance made those “simple” pieces among the highlights of the concert.

Bruce Hungerford played all-Beethoven recitals at New York’s Town Hall in 1970, and at Alice Tully Hall in 1974. (Pianist Alfred Brendel was spotted in the audience at the latter.) Also, during that period, he joined the faculties of Mannes College of Music and the New York State University at Purchase. His Vanguard records were played regularly on the radio, and anyone in New York who listened to classical music knew his name.

Then, in the early hours of January 26th, 1977 he died, together with three family members, in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver in a larger vehicle who came across the road, hitting them head-on.

Although, in his mature years, he was acknowledged for his mastery of the music of all the composers mentioned above, the one with whom his name was most often associated is Beethoven. And his work as a Beethoven pianist was compared to that of the greatest Beethoven interpreters.

This recording is the first release of a live, Bruce Hungerford all-Beethoven piano recital. It was recorded in 1965 at the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth (a hugely elaborate rococo auditorium, predating Richard Wagner’s arrival in Bayreuth by more than a century).

It would not be an exaggeration to describe his Beethoven playing as combining the intensity and technical brilliance of Rudolph Serkin with the warmth, beauty of tone and profundity of Artur Schnabel. Fast movements were usually played quite fast and slow movements were slow, though never static, and demonstrated a rare depth of feeling, and expression.

The spirituality of his playing was often mentioned. Some moments even seem magical. One thinks of the way he ends the first movement of the G Major Sonata, Op. 79, tossing it up in the air where it evaporates, or his playing of the surprise ending of the last movement, where he graciously and politely sets it down. Or of the “arrival in heaven” in the last movement of Op. 111, just before the great (triple) trills.

The audience reaction at the end of Op. 111 is exactly what one would wish for from an appreciative audience. After an achingly long wait, he plays the unbelievably soft and perfectly focused final chord. It’s about 10 long seconds after he finishes playing before anyone wants to break the spell he has set by clapping. Then, after almost a minute of spirited applause, all hell breaks loose, probably as he returns to the stage for another bow, and the audience gives a full-throttled response.

Although he usually played Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, in the arrangement of his friend and mentor, Dame Myra Hess, after Op. 111, on this occasion his first encore is the E-Flat Minor Prelude from the First Book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Slow, deeply thoughtful, and with some of those amazing harmonic twists with which Bach sometimes startles, it continues the mood of reverence.

Finally, he sends his audience home with a performance of Beethoven’s often hackneyed Für Elise, played with a simplicity, dignity and elegance that reminds you what a beautiful work this is.

Donald Isler

Pianist Antonio Iturrioz said of this recital:

"I could write an essay of the experience I received listening to this great Beethoven interpreter!..........It has been so many years since I have heard such profound and mysterious Beethoven. And at the same time very direct and simple...........I said to myself, this is one of the very few real Beethoven messengers..........He had such a beautiful sound combined with his unbelievable depth of expression. One of the truly great Beethoven players of all time!" wrote of this album:

Between 1965 and his death in a 1977 car accident Bruce Hungerford recorded 22 out of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas for Vanguard that count among the most stylish and intelligent interpretations one can find. The main program of this previously unpublished July 29, 1965 recital from the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth replicates repertoire that Hungerford eventually would record in the studio, yet the presence of an audience arguably elicits added breadth and spontaneity.

For example, the F-sharp major sonata finale's rapid major and minor key alternations are timed to more humorous effect, the “Pathétique” sonata outer movements reveal a larger number of bass lines brought to the fore, and the Op. 27 No. 1's Allegro molto vivace loosens up with a giddy, Schnabel-like abandon that Hungerford slightly tempered in the studio. If Op. 79's Presto alla tedesca is a shade stiff and square, the Vivace's playful simplicity and suppleness again evokes Schnabel's still-unrivaled paradigm.

If Schnabel enveloped Op. 111's first-movement Allegro con brio in a headlong, sweeping haze, Hungerford projects comparable energy while clearly untangling the gnarly counterpoint. The pianist's Arioso distinguishes itself with a muted, spaciously sculpted theme, unified tempo relationships from one variation to the next, precise yet never rigid articulation, and long chains of trills that are so beautiful that you don't want them to end! For encores, Hungerford plays a slow, grim, and rivetingly rhythmic Prelude in E-flat minor from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, followed by a simple, direct, and understated Beethoven Für Elise.

The only drawback to this recital concerns the dry, overmodulated sonics, which suggest that someone had turned the tape recorder input levels up excessively high, or placed the microphones too close to the piano, while the audience applause seems to come from another venue. After Hungerford finished Op. 111, the audience waited 10 seconds before applauding for about two minutes. I can understand the documentary purpose of preserving such an audience response, but I suspect most listeners will bypass it and go directly to the encores, as I did.

Ultimately this release will appeal more to specialists with a strong interest in Hungerford than general audiences, but anyone who cares about the Beethoven sonatas will gain insights from this pianist's artistry. Producer Donald Isler, a Hungerford pupil and an excellent pianist in his own right, contributes informative and affectionate booklet notes.

—Jed Distler



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