This box of CDs is self-recommending to fans of the harpsichord virtuoso Wanda Landowska. It comprises almost everything she recorded during the years 1928 to 1940. Single CD reissues have been available for many years, but this is the first "complete" resume and, happily, the quality of the digital remastering exceeds them all. Although claiming to be "complete", it does omit a Mozart Piano Sonata , No 17 in D, K 575, the only one to survive from a series of four Mozart piano sonatas Landowska recorded in the late 1930s.
Especially since her death, Landowska and her recorded harpsichord legacy have polarized opinion. Her detractors cite her excessive "orchestrating" of scores, how she never allows a phrase to be reiterated without giving it a different colour or sonority by means of the pedal and double manual resources of her Pleyel harpsichord, and how she rarely allows a slow movement to unfold without letting out or tucking in the tempo here and there.
Her admirers, including her pupil Sir Clifford Curzon, remind us that she was first and foremost a creative musician. She was moreover, intent from early in her career on popularising a keyboard repertoire that had fallen into neglect.
No one, however, has been able to gainsay the incredible vitality that imbues her performances. Indeed, once you have heard her "Italian Concerto" or one or other of her Scarlatti sonata performances, you'll possibly find that versions by other performers pale into insignificance.
I love the unique voice of Wanda Landowska and purchased this CD set because I hoped the transfer would be good enough. I have not been disappointed, the sound is as good as it is on my old vinyl. Of course the original recordings are not up to modern standards, indeed there is considerable hum on the earliest in the set. But I can live with that because the music cuts through. So what is it that makes Landowska special? I believe it to be her indomitable spirit that drives the music, a pulse that thrives in it, and a style of phrasing that marks out great refinement. Above all I sense a upwelling of sheer joy. Her technical mastery is unchallenged. There is one Mozart concerto (number 26) that she performs on the piano-forte, demonstrating that she has every bit as much skill as any of her contemporaries. The harpsichords she plays are not standard, but rather monster machines which were constructed to fill the concert hall with sound. Landowska stands in a similar position to Pablo Casals, bringing an intimate musical experience out into the spot-light. I think, like Marmite, you either love or hate it. I do encourage you to give her an ear, for there is no other way to generate an opinion, and be prepared to be amazed and delighted.
Every amateur knows the importance of Wanda Landowska. I think this anthology is the definitive one, as it brings in wonderful recovers, some of her historical interpretations. And she was, absolutely, a mark in XX th century Bach interpretrs, as this records show so generously