Foldes and Faermann

Hungarian pianist Andor Foldes (more properly, Földes – the umlaut is usually omitted) was born in 1913 and made his public debut in his native Budapest at the age of eight, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 15. The following year, he entered the Budapest Academy of Music, where his mentors included Ernő Dohnányi. Golden-age pianist Emil von Sauer, once a pupil of Liszt, visited Budapest and was so impressed with the young pianist that he kissed him on the forehead, telling him that the kiss, never previously bestowed, had been passed on to him by Liszt, who had received it from Beethoven himself. In another memorable encounter, Foldes met Béla Bartók in 1929. Hearing Bartók play Schubert, Foldes was transported by the older man’s ‘sensitivity’ and ‘humility’, and was so impressed that he soon become one of the most important interpreters of Bartók’s music. Foldes became a Deutsche Grammophon recording artist in the early 1950s, and Bartók’s music quickly joined Foldes’s discography.

Indeed, Foldes frequently recorded music from the twentieth century. In addition to Bartók, there was fellow Hungarian Zoltán Kodály, and also Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Virgil Thomson. Bach was there too. In the CD era, his Beethoven recordings have not received as much attention, and this has been an oversight. Beethoven became part of Foldes’s repertoire from early on. He played the Piano Concerto No. 1 in Budapest when he was only nine, and he played the Concerto No. 4 (with his own cadenzas) two years later. Beethoven remained in his repertoire for his entire life. One of his most formative experiences was hearing Wilhelm Backhaus play all 32 of the sonatas during recitals in 1938 and 1939. In the 1950s, by giving charity recitals on all five continents, he contributed to the rebuilding of Bonn’s Beethovenhalle, the concert hall that had been destroyed in 1944 during a bombing raid. The Beethovenhalle reopened in 1959. For his efforts, Germany gave Foldes the Grand Service Cross. Between 1958 and 1965, he followed in the footsteps of another great Beethoven pianist, Walter Gieseking, by succeeding him, after his death, as a professor at the College of Music in Saarbrücken. At the time of his accidental death, in 1992 (he fell down a flight of stairs), he had been preparing for a concert and an eight-day master class in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.

Foldes came to the United States in 1939. There, he gave many recitals and concerts, including the New York premiere of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2. He was the recital partner (under a pseudonym) of the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti. While in New York, he met a Hungarian journalist. She later became his wife. He became a United States citizen in 1948. After the war, Foldes and his wife returned to Europe, where there were more plentiful concert opportunities, and they settled in Switzerland.

Unlike many musicians, Foldes was a fan of recordings, although he understood that familiarity could breed, if not contempt, then at least complacency. He did not like to hear a work too many times, fearing that his ears would ‘get too used’ to it. At the reopening of the Beethovenhalle, he commented that each interpretation is like a living being, with its own birth, growth, and death. Also, he wrote: ‘Recording a disc is one of the most difficult tasks for a performing artist. What is recorded is there for eternity. One knows exactly that in all likelihood the work in question will not be recorded again for a while, and that it cannot be “touched up”. It must be a version that will stand the test of time, and yet not be ‘set in stone’; it must capture the essence of that intuitive moment, and yet convey the definitiveness imposed upon it by the very nature of the situation.’

Mikhail Faerman was born in 1955 in Beltsi, a town in the Soviet Republic of Moldavia, which until World War II belonged to Romania. He derives therefore, in the broadest sense, from a cultural area which was the home of such outstanding artists as Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti and Shura Cherkassky. Like many highly talented pianists he began to play the instrument at a very early age – three, in his case. When he was only seven he was allowed to join Evgenia Yarmonenko’s piano class at the Central School of Music in Moscow. From 1972 until 1977 he studied with Jacob Flier at the Moscow State Conservatory, famed for producing a wealth of outstanding artists, including Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter.

Faerman’s participation in the 1975 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Music Competition in Brussels, where he won first prize, marked his decisive breakthrough on to the international scene. Since 1978 he has been living in Brussels, the place of his initial triumph, and since 1997, has been a professor of piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels. His early success resulted in an invitation to make his Munich debut in the Herkulessaal on 3 February 1980. Critics spoke of his ‘sensational talent’. His exceptional power at the keyboard excited admiration, as did his capacity for musical shaping and characterization. This recording – his only one for Deutsche Grammophon – was taped ‘live’ at that debut recital and issued in its ‘Concours’ series, one from which more releases are projected for the future.