Myra Hess: Complete HMV Recordings 1938-1942 (Biddulph LHW 025)

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The Independent Culture
Although best-known for instigating a legendary series of wartime concerts at London's National Gallery, Dame Myra Hess was also an extraordinarily gifted pianist. In fact, her finest records are fully on a par with those of Benno Moiseiwitsch or Solomon (to name just two of her most accomplished contemporaries), and this worthily engineered selection presents repertoire that especially suited her talents.

Best is Schumann's Carnaval, a delectable sequence of cameo portraits where Dame Myra displays a sensitive touch, tasteful rubato and a lilting turn of phrase. There's ample virtuosity, too ("Papillons"), as well as grandeur ("March of the Davidsbundler against the Philistines") and humour ("Lettres dansantes"). Hardly less impressive are a Scriabinesque Album Leaf by Hess's celebrated teacher Tobias Matthay and Howard Ferguson's versicoloured F minor Piano Sonata, a sizeable statement that's particularly rich in contrapuntal interest.

Then there's an insightful sequence of late Brahms Intermezzi, a nimble Scarlatti Sonata and Hess's signature tune, her own eloquent voicing of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", here shaved just a little close to its first note but otherwise sounding as serenely peaceful as I'd remembered it. Those wartime audiences must have been profoundly comforted.