Manuel de Falla – Fantasia Baetica- Frank Pelleg, Piano – 1953 -Concert Hall Society release #G-16 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Become a Patron and enjoy freebies: Become a Patron!
Maybe not so rare or underrated, the music of Manuel de Falla, although not a staple in the concert hall diet, is nonetheless better known than many of the composers I post about here. This post is more about the pianist, Frank Pelleg the Czech-born Israeli pianist, harpsichordist, composer and conductor who has pretty much faded from the musical radar of noteworthy artists whose work was admired at the time.
Daniela Glass and Aryeh Oron, writing for the Bach Cantatas website offer a comprehensive and thorough biography of Pelleg. Here’s a sample:
Born: September 24, 1910 – Prague, Austria-Hungary (now Prague, Czech Republic)
Died: September 20, 1968 – Haifa, Israel
The Czech-born Israeli harpsichordist, pianist, conductor, composer and pedagogue, Frank Pelleg [Peleg; born Pollak], studied music in Prague at National Academy of Music (piano, composition, conducting) and musicology at the Prague University. He was a student of Vítčzslav Novak and Alexander Zemlinsky, among others.
Frank Pelleg began appearing in recitals when still very young, performing mostly pre-classical music on the harpsichord and contemporary repertoire on the piano. One of his own early compositions, The Sailor’s Ballad for choir and orchestra (to a text by Jiří Wolker) had been performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Václav Talich. During that period he also wrote Three Songs (texts by Horace, Nietzsche, Tagore), Piano Concerto, String Quartet and Piano Quartet.
In 1936 Frank Pelleg immigrated to Eretz-Israel (Palestine). When he came to Israel he changed his name from Pollak to Pelleg, the Hebrew word for Bach, to specify his deep appreciation for the German composer. He won 1st prize at the International Contest of Performing Musicians in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1939. Soon after, his professional life took a wholly new direction. He became extremely active in every aspect of music life in Israel. He travelled and performed all over the country: in provincial towns, rural settlements (kibbutzim) and he carried his harpsichord with him wherever he went. Pelleg appeared with the then Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, with the Radio Orchestra and with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra both in Israel and on their tours abroad. As a soloist he gained quite a reputation as interpreter of Bach’s music.
As a pianist Frank Pelleg was an extraordinary interpreter of Mozart. He succeeded in rendering the essential simplicity and purity of the music without surrendering any of the drama, the tragedy, or humour it contains. He often performed the concerti amongst which his interpretation of the Coronation and of the D minor Concerto K.466 was particularly brilliant as heard at a concert conducted by Otto Klemperer in 1950.
Pelleg loved Schubert and seemed to know and understand him as one does an old friend. Fifty years ago Schubert was not really fashionable and his sonatas were only rarely heard. Pelleg’s masterly performance of his works, in particular of his two A major Sonatas, D.664 and D.959, contributed much to the revival of interest in his music both in the audiences and among performing artists.
Listening to Pelleg playing Ravel was rather like sipping vintage champagne – it combined the coquetishness of Couperin with that of Ravel (Le tombeau de Couperin) observed through Pelleg’s own prism of elegance. He succeeded, in his performance of the Pavane pour une infante defunte, in achieving what best is expressed in his own words: …a magical blend of charm and sweetness of motion with bitter despondency of the occasion (from his book Know the Music).
Another great composer indebted to Pelleg for promoting and interpreting his music is Prokofiev. Pelleg was the first to perform in Israel most of his piano sonatas. The most brilliant among them, Nos. 6. 7 and 8 written between 1939 and 1944, Pelleg performed only a short while after they had been composed. His interpretation of Prokofiev might lack, on the one hand, the steely power of tone and the motoric parts may not always be as fast as they should but, on the other hand, his stunningly profound reading of the dramatic message contain the sonatas of World War II, was superb.
Frank Pelleg was a chamber music performer and many works he played were actually heard in Israel for the first time (such as the Trio and the Violin Sonata by Ravel; the Violoncello Sonata, Op.40 and the Piano Quintet, Op.57 by Dmitri Shostakovich).
Pelleg collaborated with a number of celebrated artists, including Max Rostal and recorded a fair of amount of chamber music as well as solo piano works for Concert Hall as well as Ducretet Thomson in France and other smaller labels in the UK.
Although this performance doesn’t appear to be listed in the Pelleg discography, it’s the B-side to the Kodaly String Quartet I ran last week – both from Concert Hall Society #G-16. Many of this other Concert Hall recordings have been reissued via Presto.
Worth investigating if you aren’t already familiar.
In the meantime, enjoy this one.