Re-listening to some of the performances here that I first heard in about 1970 (when some of them were issued on an HMV HQM series "Great Instrumentalists" LP) and through which I got to know Chopin's Scherzos, I'm struck again by the injustice of the fact that HMV used to issue Benno Moiseiwitsch's recordings on the cheaper "Plum" label, rather than the Red Label treatment accorded to artists like Cortot and Rubinstein. He was a fantastic pianist, particularly in Chopin, Rachmaninov and Schumann, and with a much wider repertoire in his younger days. (Readers of this review will realise that, because I grew up with some of these recordings, I may have a subjective bias in their favour. I would not wish to hide it!)
The performances (that are best heard at quite a loud volume) show a very high level of affinity with Chopin, and manage to be both patrician and superbly lyrical all at once. The tempi are usually flowing, and on the fast side, but Moiseiwitsch can express a great deal (for example in Scherzo No 1) at a fairly swift speed (8'44"), whereas Arrau (in 1953) needs 10'42". The Arrau recording (as well as his later, slower, digital one) is very beautiful indeed, but you could say that Moiseiwitsch seems to achieve and express as much with less effort.
It was said that, after years of immensely hard work performing almost nightly in the interests of public morale during World War 2, Moiseiwitsch was (and his playing sounded) tired in the late 1940s. I can hear no trace of that in the three Scherzos included on this disc (recorded in 1949) and his technique sounds in excellent form. It should be remembered that Moiseiwitsch lived at the tail-end of the era of the "romantic" pianist, when performers took liberties with the text, and there are some moments when octave doublings occur in the bass, or the right hand (at the end of Scherzo No 1) plays an octave higher than written. These moments are rare, but "purists" should be warned. (Horowitz and others occasionally did such things as well.)
Fascinating to have two versions of the Barcarolle to compare on this CD (although Naxos might have placed one at the start of the recital and one at the end, rather than one right after the other!) and I wonder if you will feel, as I do, that HMV made the right choice in publishing the 1941 performance? The Polonaise is subdued and wistful, but supremely elegant, and the two Nocturnes, as performed here, have an apt and tender rêverie quality but no absence of masculinity.
However good all these performances are, it is for the three Scherzos that this disc is indispensable: there may be a few equally fine interpretations to be had, but I cannot imagine these being surpassed in any significant way.
Buy this disc!!