Eileen Joyce - Complete Studio Recordings

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“In every way the most transcendentally gifted young piano student I have heard in the last 25 years” was Percy Grainger’s pronouncement of the young Eileen Joyce (1908-1991) when he first heard her play in 1926. From the goldfields in Western Australia whose capital city is the most remote in the world, Joyce defied incongruous and humble beginnings to forge a career that took her to the international pinnacle of twentieth-century pianism. Now, for the first time, her complete studio recordings, made between 1933 and 1959, are issued collectively as a 10CD box with a lavishly illustrated and annotated booklet.

The Tasmanian-born pianist Eileen Joyce was still a student of the legendary pedagogue Tobias Matthay at the Royal Academy of Music in London when she made her first recording, at her own expense, in June 1933. This was of Liszt’s concert study “La leggierezza” and the Parlophone Company was sufficiently impressed by the recording to purchase it from her and request a side B. So began a 27-year-long recording career, stretching almost to her retirement in 1960. The many short pieces she recorded for Parlophone, documented on CDs 1-4 of this box, were not salon trifles but compact classics of piano literature by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Rachmaninov, among others. They are distinguished by a precision and clarity of articulation which became known as the hallmark of her playing as well as the flamboyance, strength and stamina that gave her so durable a career in concert.

More substantial works from those early years include piano trios by Arensky and then Haydn, recorded for Columbia once EMI had absorbed the Parlophone label. In 1942, she made her first complete concerto recordings, of the fine concerto by John Ireland and the First Concerto by the youthful Shostakovich. After the war she became a Decca artist and continued to record a remarkably wide range of repertoire, from classics and rarely heard miniatures to contemporary music. In fact her first recording for the label was never issued: Tchaikovsky’s Second Concerto, rarely encountered then as now. Shelved for mysterious “technical reasons” it has been specially remastered for this set and shows Joyce at her best: a fearless performance, “one of the finest I have heard,” according to the pianist Philip Fowke, “a performance of sparkle, passion and bravura.”

The set’s editorial content includes a personal memoir of the pianist from Bryce Morrison; a thoroughly researched and documented history of her early years by David Tunley; an account of her career by another Australian academic and historian of performing arts, Victoria Rogers; and the story of her career as a recording artist, by Cyrus Meher-Homji. For any pianophile, piano historian or simply lover of superbly crafted piano playing, this box promises a treasure-trove of exciting discoveries.