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The Tacet label is trying to make it clear that you′re not going to have to suffer thru the sort of distortion and scratch evidenced by the few early recordings of solo classical piano music made around 1905.
"(...) The note booklet begins with a sidebar headed "This is not an historical recording." Well, the Tacet label is trying to make it clear that you′re not going to have to suffer thru the sort of distortion and scratch evidenced by the few early recordings of solo classical piano music made around 1905. Actually, none of the famous pianists or composers had recorded yet because some had tried it and after hearing first hand how horrible it sounded, they said, in effect, "Forget About It."
The invention in 1904 of the Rube Goldbergish Welte Mignon recording system in Germany made it possible for discerning artists to perform their music and then later (after considerable processing) hear back an amazingly authentic performance full of most of the subtleties of their playing, and without noise or distortion. It was so excellent that composers such as Richard Strauss, Debussy, Ravel and Mahler recorded Welte rolls. The recording system was light years beyond the typical player piano (invented around 1880) in its design, and could be either built into pianos - which was done by Steinway and others - or the rolls could be played back on a "Vorsetzer" - a robot-like device with 88 "fingers" which rolled up to any piano′s keyboard and struck the individual keys just as a live pianist would do. The latter ability is what has been harnessed by a number of different record labels over the years: a restored Vorsetzer was rolled up to a Steinway grand and the latest recording equipment would then preserve the performance by the phantom pianist in stereo for release on LP, tape or now CD. Some of those original efforts suffered from less than perfect adjustment of the complex and aged Welte Mignon mechanisms. There were many associated noises of the mechanical wheels and levers, you could hear the wheezing of the pneumatic pumps that were involved, and sometimes the music took on a very mechanical delivery not that much better than the typical player piano. Telarc Records got around these mechanical problems in their Rachmaninoff CD series by transferring everything on the composer′s piano rolls (which were Duo-Art, not Welte) to computer files, for astoundingly realistic playback. Tacet has elected to stay with the actual Welte Mignon equipment, but tweaked to the enth degree by a Stuttgart technician, Hans W. Schmitz, of Welte-Vorsetzer-Technik. The Vorsetzer was rolled up to a Steinway D concert grand and these over a dozen rolls made by composer-pianist Dohnanyi just a year after the gadget′s invention were recorded by Tacet′s engineer Andreas Spreer in up-to-date stereo digital audio.
As with a number of other composers for the piano, Dohnanyi began his long career as a concert pianist. He did include a few of his own compositions in this series of piano rolls. The longer works, such as the Beethoven and Schubert piano sonatas, required separate rolls for each movement. The first movement of the Schubert was never issued, so we must make do with only the second and third movements. Liszt′s Fantasy and Fugue on the name of BACH is quite a virtuoso demonstration of both Dohnanyi′s expertise and the realism of the Welte recordings. It is also one of the longest-running rolls at nearly 12 minutes. It should be noted that in some ways - although both the original recording (rubber rollers putting varying thickness lines on the paper roll for each key) and conversion to the final punched-holes roll was at heart rather primitive - corrections could be made to any of the performer′s clams to an extreme extent, and without the pianist having to re-record anything either!
The first attribute that strikes me about these recordings is the dead quiet background. There is simply no noise from the Welte mechanism at all, as heard on the previous attempts by others. Herr Schmitz must have been very busy with the silicon spray or whatever else he used to quiet down all the gear, and careful micing was probably also a factor. Earlier CDs of music of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven seemed to be very convincing, with little of the mechanical player-piano sound distracting from the performances. However, with the music of Liszt and Schubert there seems to be more of an atmospheric flow that is somehow affected by a bit of mechanical disturbance to the smooth phrasing. Yes, the piano is basically a percussion instrument, but the best pianist can disguise that successfully with proper phrasing. I deduce that Dohnanyi did that in 1905 but it′s just a little too much for the Welte mechanism. However, this is still an important addition to the Welte Mystery series of CDs, which so far includes Granados, Richard Strauss and Reger playing their own works, plus other pianists of the time playing Wagner and Chopin.
By the way, there′s only 13 minutes on the second CD; a bit unusual, but then this is an unusual album."
John Sunier

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