A lost concerto from the pianist who disappeared

A December 1940 New York performance of the Paganini Rhapsody by Gitta Gradova has been put up today on Youtube. She’s quite a powerhouse.

Gradova stopped playing in public two years later under spousal pressure, vanishing from the musical scene.

Beware the cut and breaks in this recording, but the performance is formidable, at times overwhelming.

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  • Thanks for bringing this to us, Norman. There are certainly fabulous artists who stopped their performing careers for family reasons. Rosina Lhevinne did not pursue her own career while married to Josef Lhevinne, but did some following his passing. Anne Brown, Gershwin’s first Bess, married a Norwegian physician and lived and taught voice students in Oslo. She wrote a book about voice in Norwegian and coached various productions of Porgy and Bess. Does anyone have historic video or stories of similar people?

  • I knew Gitta, although briefly. Years ago she was scheduled to play the Rachmaninoff with the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia, but unfortunately this never occurred. She was a nice lady and I met her because she was selling some bows that belonged to her husband. In her apartment I saw many photos of her with famous Russian musicians, like Horowitz and Milstein and the great Willy Kapell, who she thought would have had a great career had he not perished in an airline crash traveling back to America from Australia, apparently on purpose to record Brahms Sonatas with Jascha Heifetz. She had unbelievable respect for him. She was obviously an incredible pianist, as this recording reveals.

  • I know this performance well, first from Abram Chasin’s “Speaking of Pianists”, where he cited it as one of the few performances the composer admired of his work. It floated around in trading circles and i ended up with it. I find it extraordinary, reminding one of what was lost. I thought she was scheduled to play his first concerto at Ravinia in the seventies with Levine conducting, my memory fails as to whether that planned comeback took place.
    Based on this alone, truly one of the greats.

    • Gitta Gradova died about three months before her scheduled performance of Rachmaninoff’s first concerto, with James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, at Ravinia on July 5, 1985.

      In his book about his mother Gitta Gradova, When the Music Stopped, Thomas J. Cottle writes at length about this concert-to-be (pp. 245-263).

  • Anybody remember what happened to vanishing pianist Ella Goldshtein. She won Busoni competition 1952 as Palestinian contestant, had rave review on her NewYork concerts. She was Alexander Borovsky student and hailed as next Teresa Carreno.

    • Hello Esfir,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I posted a comment below, but just in case you missed it, I know about Ella Goldstein a little and there are two recordings on youtube (you probably know that already) including an extraordinary performance of the Appassionata. I too would love to know more about her.

    • Hello Again, Esfir!

      I did a bit more digging on the web and discovered Alexander Borovsky (1889-1968), who is another of these fascinating artists we seem not to know anything about, or worse, have forgotten. It appears that he taught Ella Goldstein in Amsterdam ( I hope I am correct that is was the same person; it lists a birthdate for her as 1927). Who knows, she still may be with us!

    • I have 2 photos of Ella Goldstein,Egypt 1944 are you interested.As a gift of course.She stayed at our home whilst she was in Cairo.

  • Thank you for drawing our attention to this remarkable pianist and musician. The performance is wonderful and full of risk-taking and adventure – which is as it should be – but the technique is so formidable that nothing is lost. As to the orchestra; well, it shows how hard this work is, for them and much as for the soloist!

    I did a bit of digging about and found that Gradova’s son has written a biography of her, which seems to me to provide( amongst other issues) an interesting insight into the perils of not following one’s calling… It appears that Gradova was retrospectively very regretful about giving up playing, certainly at the level she had attained. However, the pressures are enormous – I don’t think many outside the professional quite realise how much psychological and physical strength is required.

    Ella Goldstein – now that is also fascinating. There are two recordings someone wonderful has put up on youtube, the first comprising two Mendelssohn Songs Without Words, the second an astonishing performance of the Appassionata. I find is inexplicable that a musician of these extraordinary gifts has become obscure – but then how many Russian pianists are there of that generation we have nver heard of- how many Europeans killed in the war…

    My wonderful teacher, who is South African, told me about Ella Goldstein’s visits to the country in the 1940s and how she was regarded then as one of the greats, on the level of Arrau.

    She also told me that Arrau, like many artists, woudl go to SA to try out their programmes ahead of the main season; she told me he brought 40 concertos on one single tour!

  • I got involved in translating letter of Alexander Borovsky, that was related to Isabella Vengerova and Slonimsky’s clan. I translated letters of Ella Goldshtein and her father to A.Borovsky. She was a prodigy, born in Harbin, China. During the WWII lived in Palestine and gave a lot of concerts at age 17-18 in Palestine and Egypt. She died in USA at age 70. What puzzles me why she vanished from concert world after such success.

    • Louise Meiszner is another lady pianist of that era who completely disappeared – she won the Levintritt competition in 1945.

  • Don’t forget Maryla Jonas, a marvellous pianist – thanks Sony Classical recent release of box with four CDs we ar lucky to revalue her recordings from the fifties.

    • Goodness, this thread is really marvellous!

      I have just read about – and listened to – Maryla Jonas, who was completely unkown to me. Her performance of the late mazurka in F minor, op 68 no 4 is superb, wonderful; idiomatic, but expert and with an intense sense of tragedy. Not surprising from an artist who seems to have had the most appalling experience at the hands of the National Socialists, with the notable exception of one Gestapo officer who saved her life.

      Now I am off to find out about Louise Meiszner. My warmest thanks to my co-readers who are making my week a thing of wonderful discovery, learning about these extraordinary musicians! One thing I am picking up in such fascinating detail is the strength and depth of culture and the excellence of the technical training these artists brought to their work.

  • But Jonas didn’t mysteriously disappear- she died young after a well-reported illness, and a series of reviews that questioned her early success.

  • A second-hand story I hope is true. A young person phoned Gitta Gradova’s home and talked to a contemporary there. He heard a piano in the background. “Is that your mother playing?” he asked. “No. (sigh) It’s Volodya.” It was Horowitz playing on one of his frequent visits.

    I enjoyed all these comments, especially from Delphine, Esfir Ross, concertmaster David Taylor, and “Heifetz”. I remember Maryla Jonas’s mazurkas. And William Kapell. Seemingly fading from memory,but not vanished, is the fabulous Odessa pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch, whose recordings of the Paganin Rhapsody were justly famous and admired by Rachmaninoff himself.

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