A Buyer's Guide to Historic Piano Recordings Reissued on Compact Discs
By Donald Manildi (Curator, IPAM) and Farhan Malik
Since the introduction of compact discs in 1983, countless early recordings have been digitally remastered for availability on CDs. This is certainly true of the large recorded legacies of those pianists who made 78-rpm discs during the first half of the 20th century. It is not difficult to find complete or nearly complete CD reissues of most major pianists from that period (and of many less significant ones). In fact, well over 500 CDs of historic piano material by more than 200 pianists have been produced during the last 38 years.
We have prepared the following guide in response to the many inquiries IPAM has received from students, collectors and general listeners concerning the availability of recordings by specific pianists of the past. The pianists are listed alphabetically, and under each name is a summary of their recordings as reissued on CD with labels (sometimes called "publishers") and catalog numbers provided.
Several independent labels, notably Marston, APR, VAI, Arbiter, Music & Arts, Testament, and others, have specialized in the reissue of historic recordings and are responsible for a majority of the piano releases mentioned here. Further details of their catalogs can be obtained online through the links listed above. A number of CDs on the NAXOS Historical Label are included here. Owing to various complicated legalities, these discs are not for sale in the United States. However, they can easily be obtained from online sources in the United Kingdom and in Canada. Another excellent source for historical transfers, offering downloads as well as finished CDs, is Pristine Classical, accessible at pristineclassical.com.
It is impossible to keep abreast of current availability of all CD releases, which go in and out of print in unpredictable fashion. Therefore, some of the recordings described below may not be readily available and will have to be sought from dealers in used CDs or on the collectors' market.
Unfortunately, various entrepreneurs, mostly in Italy, have launched their own reissue labels that are merely rip-offs of existing historical CDs, often with a distinct degradation of sound quality and with little or no accompanying documentation. These labels, notably Piano Library, Iron Needle, Grammofono 2000, Istituto Discografico Italiano, Classica di'Oro, Urania, Archipel and a few others, are to be avoided at all costs and are not mentioned here. Those who patronize the work of these producers (none of whom offer unique material) only injure those legitimate firms who attempt to make great performances accessible through their own initiatives within what is a very specialized marketplace.
The process of transferring and restoring 78-rpm recordings using modern technology involves many variables and differing approaches. Thus the quality of transfer work by the various labels and engineers is similarly inconsistent. Where needed, we have provided informed judgments on the relative merits of the transfer quality of these discs, occasionally pointing out production mistakes that potential purchasers should know about. All opinions expressed are entirely those of the compilers and may not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the International Piano Archives at Maryland or the University of Maryland.
For the purposes of this survey, "historic" means recordings made through the mid-20th century. Many pianists recorded on both shellac 78-rpm discs and, after about 1950, on vinyl long-playing records processed from tape masters. In such cases, we have focused generally on reissues of the former and not the latter. For the record (no pun), eight pianists included here (Arrau, Cherkassky, Czerny-Stefanska, Gilels, Horowitz, Lympany, Michelangeli, and Serkin) also made digital recordings during the 1980s or later. (Of the foregoing, Arrau and Cherkassky also appear on pre-1925 acoustically-recorded 78s.) Because of the general unreliability of reproducing piano rolls, this survey does not concern itself with CDs containing performances taken from rolls.
The abundance of recorded piano material described here should not imply that the field has been thoroughly covered. Many important additional 78s by these and other pianists still await proper attention on compact discs.