An important and influential recording comes back to light, though Sony is probably sitting on the original tape.

I did not know about the musical exploits of Eduard Steuermann before seeing this release. Actually, his name is on an edition of Brahms’s piano music as editor—perhaps some of our readers have that edition—and apparently he was of such temperament that a performing career was not in the cards. Nevertheless, he did make some recordings—of which this and a Busoni album are the only ones extant—and as a dedicated student and disciple of Schoenberg who knew the man very well, this album of the complete music for solo piano has a great deal of importance.

As a pianist of an older age it is instructive to see how he approaches these seminal serial works. All are atonal—the Op. 11 marks the first composition of complete tonal freedom of the composer—and Steuermann does take a more analytical, finely-honed trail through these pieces. For example, the opening of the baroque suite known as Op. 25, Steuermann is far more romantic in approach that Jacobs or Pollini, and not so much attuned to the idea of any of the piano lines as exemplifying a “melody” the way these others do; at the same time, his tonal palate - fairly restricted in this music - is quite broad and orchestral with a much wider dynamic range than others.

Steuermann‘s own Suite recorded here is interesting, even likeable, but despite the adulation given to his music by Theodore Adorno listed in the booklet, remains second rate Schoenberg (the pianist himself spoke of how impossible it was to compose anything in the presence of Schoenberg’s overwhelmingly dominant range of personality). The arrangements for two and three pianos are entertaining and nicely done, but not essential—the Schoenberg is.

I noticed a certain distortion in some of the louder passages of the Schoenberg, a recording initially released by American Columbia Records in 1957 (and in mono) before reading in the notes "unfortunately the original tape of the historic mono Steuermann recording was not available. It seems to be lost. Instead of that an original 33 1/3 rpm LP was transferred, restaured [sic] by hand and with the help of latest restauration [sic] software." Right. I know exactly what happened—it’s probably still locked in the depths of the Sony vaults where half of the world’s recorded classical music treasures still languish, like the Ark in the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. When will they get off their brains and open this stuff up to music lovers?

This at least explains the distortion. But this is an excellent LP transfer with a wide sonic range and clear clean mono sound. The other CD was recorded last year and sounds just fine. As an important document, wonderful performances, and especially for Schoenberg fans, urgently recommended.

Steven Ritter

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