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Simon Barere (1896-1951)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
 












 

 

 

 

 

 



RLP-199-17 in its first edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





















Remington R-199-35
























The second edition of RLP-199-17
 


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"Genius will always be recognized."
Mankind is willing to believe this adagio. But how many geniuses are lost, how many talents do not reach their full potential and were not even forgotten, because they never came to fame? We do not know.
What we know is that a genius is not necessarily a being who is praised by millions and whose creativity is well marketed by a multinational.

Simon Barere was a genius.
Since his untimely death, his name surfaces from time to time in every decade with a few phonographic releases of historic performances, and is subsequently forgotten. 
To the majority of music lovers of today Barere's name is quite new, notwithstanding his geniality. Simon Barere put a spell over his audience through his mastery of the keyboard, his insight in the score, and the ability to convey this by displaying a great variety of tensions and of gradations in dynamics, while keeping the image perfectly clear, as if the recreation of the composer's work was almost non physical, an abstraction, an entity on its own. This is especially true for his performances of works by Franz Liszt, Piano Sonata in B minor and Funérailles, both recorded in Carnegie Hall in 1947.

Barere's Carnegie Hall Liszt recital on R-199-85
Cover by Alex Steinweiss..

When Simon Barere had suddenly collapsed while performing the first bars of Grieg's A minor Piano Concerto in Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, on April 2, 1951, and died backstage, the world had lost an extraordinary musician, interpreter and teacher, who was not always recognized as such because of restrictions and unfortunate circumstances he had encountered during his entire life. In his younger years he often had to keep his family alive by playing in cinema's and restaurants instead of being celebrated in the concert halls of the world's music capitals. And many times he had to flee a country because of discrimination and restrictive regulations.

Simon Barere was born in Odessa on September 1, 1896, in a large family. (His actual name was Barer but when in England an 'e' was added to avoid mispronunciation.) 
As a phenomenally gifted boy of 11 he was admitted to the Odessa Imperial Music Academy. After his father had died he supported his mother and his sisters. At sixteen, after his mother had died, Simon went to St. Petersburg to study at the Conservatory directed from 1905 till 1912 (some sources mention 1917) by symphonist Alexander Glazunov.
There must have been a natural affinity between the creative, individualistic and human Glazunov and the young,  somewhat reserved, yet strong Barere. Glazunov wholeheartedly protected the young talent against the anti-Semitic regulations in the Russia of the Czars. And as Barere's nature seemed to focus on precise detail in the first place, Glazunov's influence apparently was to let him also see the greater concept, the synthesis.

In St. Petersburg Barere studied for two years with pedagogue Anna Yesipova (Annette Essipoff) (1851-1914) until her death. From then on Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931) was his teacher with whom he could share the same taste. Blumenfeld certainly taught him not only to keep his strength, precision and virtuosity, but also not to neglect refined feeling and to show vulnerability in the performance. (Blumenfeld was the teacher of such other remarkable performers as Wladimir Horowitz, Heinrich Niehaus, and another strong - and greatly underestimated and ignored - personality, Maria Grinberg.)
Simon Barere
Picture edited and restored by R.A.B., taken from the back of Remington R-199-85

After graduation Barere returned to Kiev and started off as a professor himself at the Kiev Conservatory. After Lenin's death in 1924 liberalism and liberties made place for the restrictions of the regime of Joseph Stalin and this made it even more difficult to build a career as a Jewish pianist and make a living in the world of music. Despite the difficulties, Simon Barere was able to move to Riga in 1928 to become a cultural ambassador for the Baltic countries. There his wife, pianist Helen Vlashek, and his 7 year old son Boris, finally joined him. From there they could escape to Berlin. Even there he could not establish himself as a serious performer because of the growing fascist climate in Germany.

However fortune changed his life when he traveled to Great Britain to perform. In 1934 he made his concert debut with Sir Thomas Beecham (as did Edward Kilenyi in the same period) and he was contracted by His Master's Voice to record solo pieces. These recordings were released in the USA on the Victor label. The HMV recordings have been released on CD on the APR label.
Two years later Barere came to the US and made his debut in Carnegie Hall on November 9, 1936, and immediately was recognized as one of the authoritative pianists of the period. He knew Rachmaninoff, Wladimir Horowitz and Leopold Godowsky. He settled in the US for good in 1939.

After the Second World War Simon Barere gave several recitals in Carnegie Hall in 1946, 1947 and 1948. The performances of 1947 were released by Don Gabor on the Remington label (R-199-85). In March 1951 Barere also made recordings in the studio for Remington. They were released on R-199-17 and R-199-35. He and Donald H. Gabor had more sessions planned, but fate decided otherwise on that fatal day in Carnegie Hall.

Despite the fact that Barere was never offered a big contract - Victor released only four shellac discs originating from England - therefor the Remingtons are a testimony of his extraordinary art, thanks also to the efforts of his son Boris Barere. There are recordings of solo pieces by Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Scriabin, Bach, Blumenfeld. There is also a recording of Liszt's 1st Piano Concerto.

There even exists a recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18, with Dutch born Antonia Brico conducting. The Barere-biography on the cover of the APR LP originally stated that the date of recording and the names of orchestra and conductor of the Rachmaninoff Concerto are unknown. However, when in the late nineteen seventies Dutch Television aired the documentary film, made in 1974 by folk singer Judy Collins (in cooperation with Jill Godmilow) about her teacher Antonia Brico (1902-1989), Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman (1974), I noticed that a disc is shown of a recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.2 Op.18. Printed on the label, typed with a typewriter, is the name of Simon Barere as soloist and as date of recording 1942 is mentioned, the last season Antonia Brico conducted the Women's Symphony Orchestra in New York before leaving for Denver.

Although the tape recorder had already been on display in Europe in 1935 during the World Fair in Berlin, its existence and qualities only became known in the US in 1946 after Jack T. Mullin (when on assignment in Germany) had sent two machines home. It was Ampex who started to copy the "Magnetophon" as the Germans called the machine. It was going to be the new sound recording medium and it made the Long Playing record possible. But Boris Barere recorded his father's live performances in Carnegie Hall on 78 rpm acetates, as was the medium used at the time. Making those recordings was not an easy task as not only the sound level had to be set right but also the next disc which was to be engraved had to be started at the right moment so no note was lost.

The recording of the Liszt B minor Sonata was made on November 11, 1947. This recording and the one of the Funerailles were released by Don Gabor on Remington R-199-85 to commemorate the pianist on the occasion of the first anniversary of his death in 1952. The LP has the usual Remington anomalies but also shows that the performances were originally recorded on acetates and that the transfers are extremely well done. They fully convey the atmosphere of the live performance and still have the sound quality of a direct to disc recording with an intense, dramatic and full piano tone.
Irving Sablosky, critic of the Chicago Daily News, commented in a review on Simon Barere's Carnegie Hall recording of the Liszt Sonata. A quote was printed in the 1953 Remington Records Catalog: "... fantastic, diabolical virtuosity seldom met and never before, to my knowledge, captured thus on records."

On the back of the cover are extracts from reviews of several critics and some quotations from Olin Downes' article in The New York Times of April 3, 1951, the day after Barere had died.


"Simon Barere, Russian pianist, collapsed and fell to the floor last night in Carnegie Hall as he was playing the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra. (Eugene Ormandy, conducting).

"Mr. Barere was 55 years old. He was born in Odessa in 1896. He went to St. Petersburg Conservatory as a phenomenalloy gifted boy of 11 to study with the famous Annette Essipof. Later he won the Rubinstein Prize and he commenced to tour Europe. He made his first appearance in New York in Carnegie Hall on Nov. 9, 1936, and immediately was recognized as one of the authoritive players of the period. He continued to tour America and Europe, appearing with all the leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, on many occasions.

"There was no more modest, studious and sincere artist. Others sought the limelight aggressively. Mr. Barere was concerned with only one thing, the humble service of music. He had a prodigious technique. It may be added that he was a prodigious musician, which is not necessarily the same thing. His knowledge was such that many pianists great and small, sought his counsel as coach and teacher. He leaves not only a great but an enviable reputation behind him." - Olin Downes

In 1973 this performance was released on Turnabout THS 65001, the H indicating "historic". On Varèse-Sarabande VC 81045, Tom Null released "The Legendary Pianist Simon Barere" with some live recordings made in Carnegie Hall, the program of Remington R-199-17, and he added two Scriabin Etudes, Preludes and Polka by Rachmaninoff, Toccata and Traumenwirren by Schumann and Balakirev's Islamey. The two Scriabin Etudes are Nos. 10 and 12 from Opus 8 and were released for the first time on record. See The Remington Series.

Simon Barere often emphasizes the virtuosity of the compositions, and it is obvious that - apart from his concept of the inner value of a composition - speed is a major ingredient of his interpretation and choosing for speed is sometimes a restriction resulting in untidy playing. Among his outstanding renderings are also Chopin's Scherzo No. 3 and Blumenfeld's Etude for the Left Hand. .

Varèse-Sarabande VC 81045 (1978) -
An original Don Gabor Production prepared for release by Tom Null, Dub Taylor, and Chris Kuchler. Remastered by Bruce Leek. Duplication engineer: John Arici..

Remington R-199-17 contains pieces by Liszt (Faust Waltz, Liebestraum and Gnomenreigen) and Chopin (Balade No. 1 and Scherzo No. 3). These recordings were made in 1950 and are of a far higher sound quality as a tape recorder was used. They were probably made in the Mastertone Recording Studios Inc. in New York City NY 10036, rented by Don Gabor and George Curtiss on several occasions. Although some of Barere's Carnegie Hall performances are most captivating, the studio gave the pianist a setting for better concentration and the possibility of splicing. The performance of the Faust Waltz is considered to be one of the finest ever done of the piece, and is actually better than Barere's earlier Carnegie Hall version. Later this recording was issued on Turnabout 65001 as well, the tapes being supplied by American Tape Corporation as Gabor's company was named then.

Simon Barere as pictured in a "MUSIC FOR MILLIONS" listing on the back of an early Remington Record.
Picture edited and restored by R.A.B., taken from the back of Remington R-199-85

Remington R-199-35 is another memorial album with Don Juan Fantasy (Mozart-Liszt), Etude de concert (Liszt), Sonetto del Petrarca (Liszt), Valse oublié (Liszt) and Campanella (Paganini-Liszt). Also from tape recordings made in 1950 by Remington.

Remington R-199-141 (issued in 1953) contains Balakirev's Islamey, Rachmaninoff's Preludes Nos. 5, 12 and Polka, and Blumenfeld's Etude for the Left Hand, Schumann's Toccata, Traumenswirren, and Liszt's Rhapsodie Espagnole. These are indicated as being live recordings made in Carnegie Hall.

There is some controversy about the recordings of Schumann's Toccata and Liszt's Rhapsodie Espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody) featured on R-199-141. These takes could have been dubbings from old HMV recordings and applaus could have been added as Bryan Crimp and Boris Barere (Simon Barere's son) maintain. John Wilbraham though defends Don Gabor in this matter. He writes:


"On your site you make mention of the APR re-issue of a set of acetates of Barere playing the Rachmaninoff Concerto No 2, for your information on the date of which we must thank you. I recently purchased this CD and was interested to read in the notes provided by Bryan Crimp that 2 recordings of Barere issued by Remington as live Carnegie Hall recitals are, in effect ‘fakes’, produced by taping his earlier HMV studio recordings and adding taped applause at the end.

Mr Crimp goes on to say that according to Boris Barere, the pianist’s son, no recording was ever made at Carnegie Hall of the two pieces in question (Schumann's Toccata and Liszt's Rhapsodie Espagnole, Ed.), although his father did perform them there. Such a fabrication is probably unprecedented, but Mr Crimp lays the blame fairly and squarely when he says ‘fake audience applause had been applied by Remington for inclusion on an LP containing live Carnegie Hall recordings.’

I have relistened to the record in question [R-199-141, issue date 1953] and have no doubt that these 2 tracks are indeed fabrications; it would be convenient therefore to lay the blame at Remington’s door, as a commercial enterprise without scruples about misleading their buyers or stealing another company’s recordings; unfortunately, I have a problem with this. One of the two tracks, that of the Spanish Rhapsody of Liszt, had actually been previously issued by Boris Barere himself on a private LP [CH 44] of his father ‘Recorded During Recitals at Carnegie Hall’.

This record was fairly widely circulated prior to Remington’s release, and having listened to copies in my own collection I can confirm that although there is some sound engineering in the Remington re-issue, the two are basically the same, with identical protracted applause added at the end. Now since Mr. Barere has asserted for APR that his father was never recorded in this work at Carnegie Hall, it follows that he must have known that the recording he was issuing ‘in response to the requests of many of my father’s friends’ was in part not genuine. There is no way of knowing what role Remington may have played in the fabrication previous to this, if indeed they knew about it at all. Mr. Barere gives Alexander Stock as the name of his sound engineer, and I have not seen any association of him with the Remington label. - John Wilbraham, Great Britain.

It is, however, indeed easy to distinguish the piano tone of a 78 RPM shellac from a piano recorded on an acetate (engraved lacquer). The acetates give a more chiseled, defined, and also a more dynamic sound quality with a wider frequency band. This is certainly heard on the Remington of the Liszt Sonata on R-199-85, and on practically all selections on the Varèse-Sarabande LP release prepared by Tom Null in 1979. But Schumann's Toccata on that disc was clearly taken from the HMV 78 RPM disc. In this instance Don Gabor obviously followed Eli Oberstein's method of releasing material from other companies without being detected.
Rhapsody Espagnole is not issued on the Varëse-Sarabande label. Also the B minor Sonata was not issued by Tom Null. He probably was not looking for the acetate discs or did not find the transfers to tape when searching the boxes of Remington recordings. Varèse VC 81045 shows also which pieces were recorded in the studio.

Remington R-199-85 contains Barere's interpretation of the Liszt Sonata shows virtuosity, but never for the sake of displaying a superior technique as in recordings of other pianists. There is no sentimentality. His sense for phrasing, for dynamics, for building up and releasing tension have a sincerity which leads the listener to the heart of the music, to the core of what human existence is all about.
Right from the day Remington R-199-85 was released, Barere's performance of Liszt's Sonata was recognized as the best interpretation that was available on disc.


Harold C. Schoenberg of The New York Times wrote:

"...it has that combination of excitement and bravura that Barere invariably brought to his Liszt (...). In time to come this disc will be a collector's item."

Noel Strauss wrote:
"More completely satisfying readings of the pieces by Liszt presented are hardly imaginable. The "Funerailles" of that master was not only a tour de force of living octaves, but thrilling in its dramatic forcefulness and deeply affecting in its moments of sensitive lyricism."

Warren DeMotte's evaluation from 1955 published in The Long Playing Record Guide reads:
"Barere plays with magnificent drive, poetic imagination, and sincere conviction."


Click here for a Sound Clip of the introduction from the Liszt Sonata.

In 1989 Appian Publications and Recordings (APR) transferred the old acetates to CD. As remastering techniques have vastly improved of late, again new transfers have been prepared of Barere's performances. The 1947 Carnegie Hall recital with the Liszt Sonata has been prepared by Bryan Crimp with annotation: "Simon Barere, His celebrated live recordings at Carnegie Hall, Volume Three: 11th November 1947". The program also includes Renaissance - Pastorale, Gigue & Tambourin (Godowsky), Ballade No. 1 and Impromptu No. 1 (Chopin), Etude for the left hand (Blumenfeld), Islamey (Balakirev) and encores by Scriabin (Etude in D sharp minor, Op. 8/12), Rachmaninoff (Polka de W.R.), Schumann (Traumens Wirren) and Weber (Perpetuum mobile from Piano Sonata No. 1).
Thanks to the efforts of APR, today everybody can hear recordings of Simon Barere. But if you are a collector and encounter a relative good pressing of a Remington release, you should not hesitate to take it home.

As a music lover one depends very much on the taste of the technician. Does he go for an extremely clean transfer with a cold piano tone or does he want to convey the atmosphere by not cleaning up the signal too drastically and preserving a more natural sound with inevitably some distortion? The technician's choice makes a great difference to the listener's perception, while conveying more or less the nature of the performance. If you play records and do not mind hiss and surface noise, I would suggest buying the Remington disc with Liszt's Sonata as well and you will be transported back to 1947.

Text (c) Rudolf A. Bruil - March, 2001


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