LEONARD PENNARIOThe Early Years 1950-1958
Deluxe 4CD SET
Limited Edition Authorized by Leonard Pennario
Bela Bartok, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Cesar Franck, Franz Liszt, Modeste Mussorgsky, Leonard Pennario, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Rozsa, Robert Schumann
LEONARD PENNARIO, piano
REVIEWS"[Pennario's] virtuosity left colleagues and admirers slack-jawed with envy and admiration......[the Mussorgsky is] bold and incisively characterised...Visions Fugitives are brilliantly alive to all of their flashing whimsy... lavishly presented and brilliantly re-mastered, make for a superb souvenir of a very special time in Pennario's long and glittering career."
Gramophone International Edition - June 2007
Fanfare - July / August 2007
"[This retrospective] is long overdue...The [Chopin] Sonata is excellent...like everything in the collection, played to near-perfection...[the Polonaise] is as sweeping and grandiose as I gave ever heard...I have never heard a more satisfying rendition of the Schumann...[Liszt] to dazzling effect...[Mussorgsky] is one of the most colorful, well-structured performances around...Pennario's versatility and skill [in the Visions Fugitives]...[Bartok] dispatched with all the panache Pennario was known for...[Rozsa's Sonata is] the summit of the collection...[it is] the greatest recorded performance of any Rozsa work...Ravel's Miroirs are projected with crystal-bright clarity...Alborada del Gracioso is brilliantly done...Pennario's radiant colors and irresistible momentum may make you momentarily forget there is an orchestral version [of La Valse]...Those old Capitol vinyls never sounded as good as these remasterings...a collection that should be welcomed by every pianophile..."
American Record Guide - May / April 2007
"...Chopin's B-flat minor Sonata stands out in the Scherzo for Pennario's rhythmic verve and secure marksmanship...you can infer Pennario's sense of long line and sensitively shaded soft playing in the Franck...Pennario delivers a serious, concentrated, fastidiously prepared, and intelligently paced interpretation [of the Mussorgsky]...Pennario taps into ]Prokofiev's] lyrical beauties that sometimes elude other pianists...energetic, sparkling readings of sonatas by Bartók and Rózsa further reveal Pennario's affinity for the music of his time. For surface sheen and suave fingerwork alone, Ravel [works] command respect..."
Classics Today - March 2007
"The importance of this set cannot be emphasized highly enough!"
Classical Net - April 2007
"For many fans of the piano, Leonard Pennario: The Early Years 1950-1958 will represent the fulfillment of a wish held for a long, long time — availability on CD of a pianist who once sold millions of records and was practically a household name in the United States at one time...The music flows off the page and appears as though spontaneously created; you don't think of how he executes it, it's simply there...Pennario's steely, efficient Prokofiev, his indescribably jazzy Bartók Sonata, his definitive reading of the Miklós Rósza Sonata — these were pieces in which Pennario was matchless. His technical transparency in the Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit is literally out of step with history — pianists of his era really didn't have that piece under their fingers, and truly accurate performances of the work are a late twentieth century phenomenon. However, Pennario had it down and was the only pianist of his time who could play it well."
H&B Recordings Direct - March 2007
"Sound quality for these [remastered] mono recordings is supremely better than any of the original LPs that I compared and give new life to Pennario's incredible pianistic art."
Lance Hill, Classical Music Guide - March 2007
"The present set includes recordings made 1943 (the private record of The Kerry Dancers) to 1958 (Chopin Sonata). Significant is Pennario's unearthing of the solo arrangement of Ravel's La Valse (1954), a truly blazing moment of bravura and dynamic finesse... A silken tone, breathed phrasing, and a penchant for arriving at what Rachmaninov called "the point" of a musical piece are Pennario's strong suits. Just to have an integral set (1950) of Prokofiev's twenty Visions Fugitives (it was their debut as a complete unit) is a must for collectors... Pennario is an elegant Lisztian... The Prelude, Chorale, et Fugue of Franck (1957) proves a durable, intelligent, stylish performance. The Bartok Sonata (1956) is one of several kinetic performances of repertory ... The Moussorgsky Pictures (1953) enjoys a grand line from start to finish, an intelligently graded series of arches to the Great Gate of Kiev, and never less than committed emotionally. The Funeral March Sonata caught me at the eponymous Funeral March and its tender, nostalgic middle section...The 1956 performance of the A Minor Sonata by Miklos Rozsa is a delicious find: it begins in the manner of a Bach toccata... Pennario draws forth a liquid tone out of an oft percussive Steinway in this polyphonic, moody music. The first movement concludes with some echt Hungarian razzle-dazzle. The second movement, Andante con calore, displays some exotic, Debussy-inspired harmonies, and we recall that Rosza composed his Piano Concerto (1986) especially for Leonard Pennario. The musical tiger emerges for the Allegro gusto e vigoroso, another toccata demanding rapid shifts of touch, dynamics and knotty, jazzy fingering. The set of Chopin Waltzes (1952) stands as fine testimony to a clean, polished salon rendition of the standard cycle of fourteen, played in the manner of Lipatti... When Leonard's "Minute" Waltz came over my speakers, my daughter (aged eleven) ran in, saying that it was played the way she loved her favorite waltz played...Crystalline, icy perfection for Ravel's Miroirs (1952), the Noctuelles fluttering in the cold, clear ether of outer space. Stasis and twittering for Oiseaux Tristes, a haunted collection of birds they are. Watteau for Une Barque sur l'Ocean, and we can hear the waves slap against the prow of the boat. Wizardly trills and arpeggiated runs. Collectors measure performances of Alborado del Gracioso by the standard Lipatti set; and while those by Julius Katchen and Leon Fleisher are indeed powerful, Pennario adds considerable Spanish panache and dexterous magic to the blaze of colors. The Vallee des Cloches rivals Richter's famous inscription for clarity, nuance, and sustained pulsation. The same sustained, blue-green sheet of ice water saturates Ondine, the first of the Gaspard suite. Infinite degrees of touch for Le Gibet, followed by the fiercely punishing agogical frenzies of Scarbo carried off in masterfully. To conclude the Ravel group, we have Pennario's inimitable contribution to keyboard lore, the solo version of La Valse, the performance of which became Pennario's trump card. During the playing of Debussy's Reverie (1957), my daughter asked if his piano were a harp. Leonard's own Lisztian piece, Midnight on the Cliffs (1942), depicts the Atlantic crashing against the jagged shores of Newport, Rhode Island...Variations on The Kerry Dancers, 1942, was inscribed at Pennario's Buffalo, New York home. The Brahms influence is clear, and the piece bids a fond, albeit temporary, farewell to the honest virtuoso who is never less than a gentleman."
Audiophile Audition, March 2007
"These performances by American pianist Leonard Pennario are all Capitol studio recordings, made at a time (1950-1958) when that label's monaural sound set the standard for the industry. Digitally remastered from the original session tapes...they seem as fresh and vibrant as when they were first made. Indeed, they are the living record of such an amazing artistic and interpretive prowess, captured in full-bodied sonics that explore the full range and depth of the instrument that we can only wonder why the EMI people didn't choose to reissue this treasure trove of music themselves.
For whatever reason, EMI's loss is MSR's (and our) gain. When you hear these recordings, you will be as glad as I was that more than 300 minutes of some of the best piano playing on record was not left to quietly gather dust in the vaults. Such an embarrassment of riches is really too much to take in at one or two marathon auditions, so I recommend spacing your listening sessions out for greater enjoyment (in other words, don't listen as a critic with a deadline is often compelled to!) The payback will be more rewarding than you could possibly imagine.
Disc 1. All Chopin, beginning with a stirring account of Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, the famed "Funeral March," and concluding with another full-bodied account of the Polonaise in A-flat Major. In the sonata, the melody in the Lento middle section of the Marche funébre is memorably recounted. Pennario gives a sweeping treatment to the Polonaise, a genre so transformed by Chopin that often, as here, it is literally undanceable, even by the Fred Astaires of this world. In between, we have the traditional 14 Waltzes, played with elegance, taste, and deepest feeling. Not only are the memorable waltzes such as the poignant C-sharp Minor or the bittersweet "Valse Triste" in A Minor strikingly rendered here; even as comparatively light a piece as the Waltz in G-flat Major is given its due proportion by Pennario.
Disc 2 What a line-up! Schumann's Fantasia in C Major, Liszt's Sonata in B Minor, and Cesar Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. The full compass of a grand piano that seldom been sounded as superbly as Pennario does in the opening movement of the Fantasia, appropriately marked by Schumann Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich verzutragen ("throughout fantastic and laden with sorrowful emotion." Oh brother, did he say a mouthful!) The Liszt starts and ends slowly and softly. In between, it builds to three separate climaxes before the finale, all as sure and inevitable as fate, so beautifully structured is this work. Pennario's performance is utterly spellbinding. He shows us that the deeply felt Franck, a work often misunderstood and ill-performed, belongs in the same fast company as its disc-mates.
Disc 3 Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition gives a full measure of the piano's orchestra-like sonorities. I'm particularly intrigued with the poetry Pennario brings to moody pieces like The Old Castle and Catacombes, though in terms of sheer excitement, his Baba Yaga gives away nothing to the well known orchestral version. Prokofiev's Visions fugitives are the tantalizing beginnings of compositions, witty, enticing, compelling, and atmospheric. I like the way individual visions seem to recede to make way for their successors in Pennario's performance. My favorite is the wistfully melancholy No. 8. In Bela Bartok's Sonata, the pianist brings out the element of folk-influenced lyricism that is often missed among the highly rhythmic proceedings. Finally we have Pennario's world premiere of Miklos Rozsa's Sonata in a Minor, shunned by more timid pianists as a career-breaker. It runs the gamut from calm and meditative to vigorous and agitated, a real tour-de-force of the pianist's art.
Disc 4 Mostly Ravel, beginning with Miroirs, five pieces with descriptive titles, such as Noctuelles, Oiseaux tristes, and La Vallée des cloches. Une Barque sur l'océan has more to do with the watery element than the ship; elaborate, massive chords suggest its vastness, and spiky ones its terror. Alborada del gracioso, well known from Ravel's orchestral version, alternates a spirited dance with a melancholy, reflective central section. The three pieces in Gaspard de la Nuit are, as the title implies, nightmares visualized in music. In "Ondine" the splash of tone color at the end seems to be the mocking laughter of the water nymph as she torments her human lover. "Le Gibet" describes a macabre scene: the corpse of a hanged man turning slowly in the red glow of sunset. "Scarbo" is the most horrifying of all: the incubus who drifts into the sleeper's room with the evening fog, settling menacingly in the chimney corner or running around the room with a sheer manic frenzy.
As if we haven't had enough musical thrills on Disc 4, Pennario gives us a stunning account of Ravel's La Valse. Once again, with piano playing like this who needs an orchestra? The pianist concludes with two of his own compositions, Midnight on the Cliffs, a piece by turns both scintillating and tender, depending on whether the focus is on the crashing surf below the cliffs or the moonlight itself, and The Kerry Dancers, a thoroughly delightful piece that someone ought to orchestrate (it would play very nicely in an evening of one-act ballets).
The program heard here was personally approved by Leonard Pennario, whom I am pleased to note is still very much with us. At $19.95, the 4-CD limited edition is a terrific bargain. I'll go further: if you don't buy another classical box set this year, get this one!"
Atlanta Audio Society, Feb 2007
"superb technique and keyboard touch of exceptional sensitivity."
Die Welt, Berlin [on a concert with Berlin Philharmonic under Rafael Kubelik]
"a phenomenon of the piano."
Le Figaro, Paris
"Nobody today plays the piano better than Pennario."
Andrew Porter, The New Statesman, London
"Pennario is endowed with temperament, interpretive imagination and the capacity to express it, above and beyond the flyingest ten fingers you ever saw. He made the concert one of the most exciting and exhilarating musical experiences in a long, long time."
"He has a spiritual maturity and a musical control that only a few pianists achieve in their lives."
De Tijd, Amsterdam
"It is not his fabulous technique that sets Pennario apart. It is his artistic soul."
EMI Producer, 2004
"[Pennario] is an infinitely better pianist than one remembers [Prokofiev] ever to have been."
Albert Goldberg, The Los Angeles Times
"Brilliant American pianist…"
Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians
"The bravura playing was effortless, and the play of tone and color, a joy…"
The New York Times
"For Pennario's performance, nothing but praise. An extremely impressive example of piano playing all-around"
Harold Schoenberg on Pennario's Capitol recording of La Valse
PROGRAM NOTESFew artists can match the brilliant accomplishments of American pianist Leonard Pennario. Equipped with a glittering technique and masterful musicianship, he successfully appeared with every major orchestra in America, and acclaim emanated from audiences and critics alike for his performances. He appeared with the "Big Five": Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra, and as a regular guest artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, Rhode Island Philharmonic, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and many others. Pennario appeared as an invited soloist at the White House, and was a regular guest artist at summer festivals, including the Hollywood Bowl, Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, Waterloo in New Jersey, and Brevard Music Center in North Carolina. In Carnegie Hall and in Los Angeles, Pennario collaborated in history-making concerts with Heifetz and Piatigorsky.
Being a soloist of choice, Leonard Pennario performed under the batons of such eminent conductors as Eugene Ormandy, Sir Georg Solti, André Previn, William Steinberg, Seija Ozawa, Otto Klemperer, Fritz Reiner, Rafael Kubelik, Leopold Stokowski, Thomas Schippers, Arthur Fiedler, André Kostelanetz, Sir John Barbirolli, Edward Van Beinum, Sir Adrian Boult, Vladimir Golschmann, Josef Krips, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Artur Rodzinski, Kenneth Schermerhorn, Robert Shaw, Gerard Schwarz, Alfred Wallenstein and Zubin Mehta .
Leonard Pennario gave his first public performance at the age of eight when he presented a solo program in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. However, a much more auspicious event marked the beginning of his career in the major music circles. In 1936, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra urgently needed a pianist to replace an indisposed artist. Conductor Sir Eugene Goosens (who knew of the dilemma) wired his high recommendation of the pianist, at that time a youngster of 12 years. The concerto to be performed was the Grieg, and although Pennario had never seen, heard or studied the score, he made his professional debut within six days and played such a stunning performance that he was immediately launched on a glorious career. In September 1986, Mr. Pennario celebrated the 50th anniversary of this debut in a concert appearance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, this time playing the Rozsa Concerto, a new work composed especially for him. He was also honored on this anniversary by receiving the Dean's Award for Outstanding Contributions to Music from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in May 1987.
Beginning in 1952, Leonard Pennario’s international career took him to cities in Holland, France, England, Italy, and then to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (appearances which resulted in immediate invitations for re-engagements). He also toured the Far East, where he appeared in recital and with orchestra in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Manila. He appeared in concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Symphony, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Halle Orchestra, Hague Philharmonic, Orchester der Bayerischer Rundfunk, Tonhalle Orchestra and Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra, among others.
Other highlights of Mr. Pennario's career included his acclaimed debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on November 17, 1943. At this concert, Pennario, who had just been enlisted by the United States Army (he would eventually earn three Bronze Stars), performed Liszt's powerful Piano Concerto in E-flat in his Army uniform. Virgil Thomson, eminent music critic of the New York Herald Tribune at the time described Pennario’s performance as "brilliant". Pennario also had the honor of playing Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra at the request of conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos in a memorial concert dedicated to the great composer.
Leonard Pennario was one of the foremost interpreters of Gershwin, and appeared at New York’s Alice Tully Hall as part of a Gershwin celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the composer's death. He also made a nationwide television appearance on the PBS "Gala of Stars" hosted by Beverly Sills, performing music of Gershwin with the American Symphony Orchestra under Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine. Pennario’s original Capitol Classics recording of Rhapsody in Blue with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra under Felix Slatkin was one of the best-selling classical albums of the LP era. Pennario was the first, other than Rachmaninov himself, to record all four of the composer's piano concertos, and he premiered several of Miklos Rozsa's works on record as well. He was the first to record the piano music of Gottschalk, and uncovered previously uncataloged works of the composer in the Library of Congress and recorded them. Further, Pennario discovered and premiered in public and on record Ravel's own piano version of La Valse. For many years it was one of his "signature" pieces.
As a recording artist, he was very successful, with a great many of his LPs appearing on Billboard Magazine’s "Most Popular Classical Records" listings over the years. Pennario recorded for the Angel, Capitol, Columbia, EMI, Orion, Pantheon and RCA labels.
As a composer, Leonard Pennario composed a number of works for piano which have been published, and is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). He studied with Ernest Toch. His work "Midnight on the Cliffs", a piece he played as an encore throughout his performing career, was composed in 1939 as a musical picture of the picturesque cliffs of Newport, Rhode Island. It was featured, with Pennario at the keyboard, as the theme music to the 1956 film "Julie", which starred Doris Day.
Leonard Pennario received instruction in piano performance from Guy Maier, Isabelle Vengerova and Olga Steeb. He is one of the great American pianists of the 20th century, having an innate and penetrating sense of musicianship and with a career that spanned more than 50 years. As Dimitri Mitropoulos once put it, describing a performance he shared with Pennario: "Collaboration with this young musician has been one of the happiest experiences of my life. I say musician because, although he possesses the technique necessary to virtuosity, he possesses what is more important, a soul".
PROGRAMBARTOK: Piano Sonata, Sz.80
CHOPIN: Complete Waltzes
CHOPIN: Polonaise in A-flat, Op.53
CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op.35
DEBUSSY: La Plus que Lent
FRANCK: Prelude, Chorale & Fugue
LISZT: Piano Sonata in B minor, S.178
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (First Complete Recording of Original version)
PENNARIO: Midnight on the Cliffs (First Recording)
PENNARIO: Variations on The Kerry Dancers (Private and Only Available Recording)
PROKOFIEV: Vision Fugitives, Op.22 (First Recording of Complete Score)
RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit;
RAVEL: La Valse (First Recording of ravel's Piano Version)
ROZSA: Piano Sonata in A minor, Op.20 (First Recording)
SCHUMANN: Fantasia in C, Op.17