APR's double album celebrating two roughly contemporaneous pianists, Olga Samaroff (1880-1948) and Frank La Forge (1879-1958) continues their invaluable stream of recordings, a vital testimony of historic issues telling of rapidly changing attitudes and approaches to piano playing over the years. The series on the French School, in particular, with its bias towards the dominance of Marguerite Long and Yvonne Lefebure, together with Cortot, makes for never less than illuminating listening, a more than instructive part of musical history. In an age when music college students show little awareness of the past-- and consequently of the present-- the importance of APR's work cannot be over-estimated.




Lucy Hickenloooper(for Harold  Schonberg   a name more of a burden than any young artist could be expected to assume) advisedly became Olga Samaroff. In common with, for example, Sarah Nelson who became Zara Nelsova, Mary Johnston who became Moura Lympany and, famously Leopold Stokes who became Leopold Stokowsky, she knew the value of an accessible concert name.


But her importance far- eclipses name changing. Leaving America for the more sophisticated ambience of Paris she studied with Elle-Miriam Delaborde(reputedly Alkan's illegitimate son and, by all accounts, a less than distinguished 'professor') and battled with the glass-ceiling of prejudice against lady pianists. But her career as pianist, critic and teacher (her students included William Kapell, Richard Farrell, Eugene List, Roslyn Tureck and Alexis Weissenberg) was illustrious, motivated by a determination to succeed in a an often uninviting and alien world. Pre- Schnabel, Samaroff performed virtually the complete keyboard works of Beethoven, and if the Turkish March from 'Ruins of Athens' is her only recording of music by that composer it could hardly be more urgent or propulsive, the witty fade-out humorously and ideally judged. Her Chopin is more aggressive than subtly engaged, very much of its time with its de-synchronization of the hands and a rubato which, while undoubtedly heartfelt, seems sentimental and excessive by today's standards. Yet in the finale from the B minor Sonata, she is off with the hare-and-the-hounds, as exhilarating as she is barn-storming and unstoppable. She has little time for Mendelssohn's 'Spring Song', dismissing it as trivial and offering in her own words ' the coolest performance ever.' An extrovert by nature Samaroff is hardly backward in coming forward, and she is all thunder- and- lightening in the Wagner/Ernest Hutcheson 'Ride of the Valkyries.' There are individual touches in Moszkowski's 'Etincelles' even if her performance is hardly a match for later recorded wonders from Horowitz, Earl Wild and Stephen Hough, and her Debussy 'Clair de lune' is a sentimental alternative to the composers silvery, impressionistic magic (cruelly, I have been listening one more to Gieseking's incomparable artistry).


Yet there is so much to enjoy, given the circumstances of the time. Paul Juon's 'Najaden im Quell' toccata is rattled off with all the necessary aplomb, Samaroff's own transcription of Bach’s G minor Fugue is an opulent revisit, Griffe's 'The White Peacock' is as evocative as it is virtuosic and Lecuona's timeless showpiece, 'Malaguena,' must have brought the house down, bursting with an all- Cuban colour and vibrancy.




Frank La Forge creates a less distinguished impression. A brilliant and respected partner to many celebrated singers he conjures what has been euphemistically called a' restrained culture.' Unlike Miss Honeychurch in E.M.Forster's novel' A Room With A View' who startled and offended her audience by launching into Beethoven's opus 111 Sonata when she should have been playing a more digestible alternative(one of the many currently popular sweetmeats) he goes beyond his own homely charmers('Gavotte,' 'Soiree de Vienne,' 'Romance,' and 'Valse de Concert') to Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto, here  with only an abridged Adagio on offer where note follows note in in bald rather than magical succession There is also a stilted reminder that Chopin's Berceuse is a deceptive musical challenge. He is at his best in Gottschalk's 'Pasquinade'(though there is no comparison with Ivan Davis's Gottschalk recital, long overdue for reissue) and also in a selection of Chaminade, evoking tapestried piano stools containing dog-eared copies of old favourites such as 'Les Sylvaine' and ' 'Pas des Echarpes;' echoes of long-vanished gentler, sweeter, if severely limited musical times.


Bryce Morrison