Bruce Hungerford | Pianist Bruce Hungerford: Last Recital

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Pianist Bruce Hungerford: Last Recital

by Bruce Hungerford

Last recital by one of the great pianists of the 20th Century, from just a month and a half before his tragic death in an auto accident.
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Piano Sonata No. 11 in a Major, K. 331: I. Andante Grazioso (Live)
9:49 $0.99
2. Piano Sonata No. 11 in a Major, K. 331: Ii. Menuetto (Live)
6:16 $0.99
3. Piano Sonata No. 11 in a Major, K. 331: Iii. Alla Turca - Allegretto (Live)
3:39 $0.99
4. Mozart: March in C Major, K. 408 (Live)
4:39 $0.99
5. Schubert: Waltzes and Ländler (Live)
12:42 $0.99
6. Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 1 - I. Allegro Molto E Con Brio (Live)
5:37 $0.99
7. Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 1 Ii. Adagio Molto (Live)
8:24 $0.99
8. Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 1: Iii. Finale - Prestissimo (Live)
4:26 $0.99
9. Beethoven: Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111 - I. Allegro Con Brio Ed Appassionato (Live)
8:14 $0.99
10. Beethoven: Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111 - Ii. Arietta: Adagio Molto, Semplice (E) Cantabile [Live]
17:57 $0.99
11. Schubert: Impromptu in a Flat Major, D. 935, No. 2 (Live)
6:59 $0.99
12. Bach/Hess: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Live)
3:47 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Of course it was not supposed to be the last recital.

The career trajectory of the Australian-born pianist, Bruce Hungerford (1922-1977), appeared to be upward at last on December 8th, 1976, when he gave this recital at the University of Calgary, devoted to the memory of his friend and mentor, Dame Myra Hess. (He had also performed it just a few weeks earlier at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York.) But by the time the Calgary concert was heard on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program some months later, it was in memory of both of them.

There was to be one more live performance, on January 9th, 1977, when he played the Fourth Piano Concerto of Beethoven with a student orchestra at a public high school in New York City (after which he gamely answered audience questions, such as “How long have you been playing the piano?”!).

Left unfulfilled, or incomplete at the time of the late night January 26th auto accident - which took his life, and those of three family members, caused by a drunk driver in a larger vehicle - was the completion of his Beethoven sonata cycle for Vanguard Records, a number of New York recitals for the newly formed Beethoven Society, and recognition as one of the great classical pianists of the day.

Why was his sonata cycle, planned for the 1970 Beethoven Bicentennial, still incomplete in 1977? (The last LP, bringing the total number of sonatas recorded to 22, was released after his death.) Partly because he had never performed the entire cycle, partly because he insisted on learning works seven times before performing or recording them, and partly because he insisted on redoing sessions when the playing, though impressive to those who attended, was not up to the level he demanded of himself.

A recording is only a snapshot of where you are at the moment with a certain work. But, unless you’re fortunate to have the opportunity to record the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas more than once (which Wilhelm Kempff and Daniel Barenboim have done) a recording is probably your statement of a lifetime on that music. And Bruce Hungerford was determined to get it right each time. This former Hungerford student had the privilege of attending the majority of his Vanguard recording sessions, and recalls that there was no limit to how late he was willing to work, or how many takes he was willing to make.

A uniquely brilliant individual, who did professional caliber work as a photographer and Egyptologist, he could also draw wonderfully, and had a great interest in paleontology (which almost got him into trouble once, when he was involved in a dig near a state penitentiary!). Music was only the foremost of his interests. In a more perfect world his gifts would have been recognized sooner. But, unlike Jorge Bolet, one of the other great pianists of the era who was only “discovered” and went on to a major performing career in late middle age, the “big career” always eluded Hungerford.

For one who developed a real virtuoso technique he began his study of the piano remarkably late, at age twelve. His major teachers in Australia were Roy Shepherd, a Cortot student, and the great Chopin interpreter, Ignaz Friedman. Known as Leonard Hungerford (he changed his name to Bruce in his thirties) he came to New York in December, 1945. His major teachers here were Ernest Hutcheson, and Carl Friedberg, who had known Brahms and Clara Schumann. (Although he had a particularly warm relationship with Friedberg, and recorded his lessons with him - hopefully these will one day be published - Friedberg did not always approve of Hungerford’s Cortot and Friedman--influenced Chopin interpretations. Once he greeted Hungerford with “Oh, Leonard, I heard Rubinstein play the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise last night. You would have loved it! He had 22 different tempi!”)

In the 1950s Hungerford played several recitals at New York’s Town Hall, but despite the generally fine reviews, he did not get a major recording contract, nor did his career take off. He returned to his native Australia for a tour in 1957, and in 1958 moved to Europe, where he lived till returning to the United States in 1967. He performed in Belgium and England as well as in East and West Germany, where he lived on Lake Starnberg, not far from Munich. He was particularly popular in East Germany, where he played the complete cycle of Beethoven piano concerti.

During his time in Europe he taught at the Bayreuth Festival master classes, and made the first recording of the complete piano works of Richard Wagner. It was also in Bayreuth that, in 1965, he played an all-Beethoven recital (he also played it later, at Carnegie Hall), which KASP Records has previously released.

Bruce Hungerford lived his last ten years in an apartment over a set of garages on an estate in New Rochelle, New York, surrounded by his scores, recordings of other great artists, and other treasures acquired on his trips to Egypt and Europe, most of which he could quickly locate despite the clutter. There he saw his private students, as well as some of his students from the Mannes College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. And there he practiced long into the night, ever struggling to deepen and improve his performances, and never doubting that “his day” would come.

The two Beethoven sonatas on this recital were staples of Bruce Hungerford’s performing repertoire in his last years, especially Op. 111, for which he was particularly renowned. The Schubert Waltzes and Ländler were also a specialty of his. He always began with the same two or three, and ended with the same one, but varied those in-between. Though they are technically relatively easy it is rare, indeed, to hear them played with this combination of elegance, sophistication, simplicity and sensuality. His performances of music by Mozart were few and far-between, which does seem strange, as the Sonata and March in this performance demonstrate that he had just the right spirit, classical aesthetic, and pearly finger work needed for music by the Master from Salzburg. His encores are a beautifully played Schubert Impromptu, and Myra Hess’ transcription of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, which he played frequently, and which appears here as a benediction.

Donald Isler



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