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Even before he was famous, he was already a legend among piano aficionados. Not until he won a 1985 Gramophone award for a Liszt album did Jorge Bolet, then already 70, graduate from insider tip to household name. Now Sony Classical releases on 10 CDs of all those fabled, yet heretofore only sporadically accessible, recordings that the great Cuban-American pianist made for RCA, CBS and Spain’s Ensayo Records between 1959 and 1983. This first ever complete Sony collection also includes many tracks for the first time on CD, including Bolet’s debut on RCA, a Liszt programme from 1959. Many CDs have been remastered from the original analogue tapes for this release, packaged, as always, with original covers, labels and full discographical notes.
Wider recognition came to Jorge Bolet with an immensely successful series of New York appearances in the early 1970s. Reviewing his February 1974 Carnegie Hall recital – recorded by RCA and included here complete – New York Times critic and pianist authority Harold C. Schonberg hailed him as “a throwback to the romantic giants of the keyboard … Everything that Mr. Bolet touched had beauty of tone, ease of execution and a complete command of the musical elements.” A highlight of his 1974 Carnegie programme of Bach, Chopin and “Golden Age” showpieces is the Liszt arrangement of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture. Bolet had already played this stupendously virtuosic pièce de résistance once in the studio, on 16 July 1973, following RCA sessions devoted to Rachmaninoff transcriptions. That one-take run-through of the Wagner-Liszt overture has been described by another keyboard celebrity, Igor Kipnis, as “an astounding performance that, after an imposingly broad start, turns into a white-hot listening experience.” The new Sony set contains Bolet’s entire July 1973 Rachmaninoff transcription recording in its CD debut, as well as that “white-hot”Tannhäuser Overture from the same time, which was released on CD in 2001 in a different context – as an appendix to the pianist’s now-famous “rediscovered Liszt recital”, recorded in 1972 but left to languish for decades. Needless to say, all the “rediscovered” treasures from that sensational 2001 posthumous release – Bolet died in 1990 – are also included in this collection.