The Rediscovered RCA Victor Recordings / José Iturbi

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This collection stands as a valuable time capsule from which one comes away with a fuller understanding of Iturbi’s prominence in American wartime and postwar culture.

The complete RCA Victor Recordings by José Iturbi from 1933 to 1953, include his piano duo recordings with sister Amparo Iturbi as well as Amparo Iturbi’s solo recordings on 16 CDs, restored and remastered from the original lacquer discs and analogue tapes using high-resolution 24 bit/192 kHz mastering technology with about 95% of the recordings appearing on CD for the first time and 23 pieces previously unreleased. As well as a new, captivating essay by Grammy-nominated singer, pianist, and music anthropologist Michael Feinstein on the life and work of José Iturbi and a photo book with previously unseen photos and facsimiles from the Iturbi Archives in Hollywood.

There was a time when classical music was a natural part of Hollywood. From the moments with Jascha Heifetz in They Shall Have Music (1939) to the unrivaled performances of Oscar Levant and Isaac Stern in Humoresque (1946). In its Golden Era, Hollywood adorned itself with the Who's Who of classical music. Today, alongside icons such as Marylin Monroe and James Dean, the names of Leonard Bernstein, Maria Callas and Arturo Toscanini, as well as Rudolf Serkin, Joseph Szigeti, or José Iturbi were immortalized on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. This edition is a loving homage to Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s, made possible through the generous support of the José Iturbi Foundation and the Hollywood Museum Board of Directors, who contributed to the lavish restoration of many previously lost unpublished recordings. The publication was also made possible by contributions of singer, pianist, and music archivist Michael Feinstein, the Ambassador for the Great American Songbook.


During the 1940s and 1950s the “World’s Most Popular Classical Pianist” mantle fell comfortably upon José Iturbi (1895-1980). His recognition as a radio personality led to a movie career that yielded ten feature films between 1943 and 1951 where the pianist mostly starred as himself. Yet for all of Iturbi’s renown, he was hardly a poseur. He worked with Wanda Landowska in Paris, and gave Stravinsky’s Piano Rag Music its world premiere, as well as the first complete Carnegie Hall performance of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes.

He also conducted. When Eugene Ormandy assumed the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music directorship in 1936, his chief rival for the position was Iturbi, who wound up taking charge of the Rochester Philharmonic that same year. Once Hollywood beckoned, however, Iturbi became the brunt of intellectual critics, who basically wrote him off as a sell-out and an artistic lightweight.

Time, of course, brings perspective, and Sony/BMG’s lavishly produced 16-CD collection containing Iturbi’s complete RCA Victor recordings invites a fairly thorough examination of the musician behind the personality, plus an opportunity to reassess a largely forgotten body of recorded work. A 188-page coffee table book contains photos in abundance, with all original-jacket artwork represented, including the most politically incorrect cover art ever to grace Dvorák’s “New World” symphony. We get complete session and release discographies, an Iturbi filmography, plus a brilliant in-depth biographical essay by Michael Feinstein, who co-produced this collection with Robert Russ.

It’s a pity that the session discography is not cross-referenced to corresponding CD tracks, not to mention the absence of a discography by composer. This makes it difficult to navigate the contents with ease, especially in works that Iturbi recorded more than once. For example, it took some sleuthing on my part to discover that Discs 5 and 11 each contained the Liszt Liebestraum No. 3, Schumann Arabeske, Debussy Reverie, and Chopin Polonaise in A-flat Op. 53, and that the performances were not identical.

With few notable exceptions, Iturbi’s solo recordings mostly consist of short, encore-length pieces. He’s especially at home in Spanish music: Iturbi’s accentuation, phrasing, and timing throughout Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance define perfection, while he shapes Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 2 (“Oriental’) with sensitivity and tenderness. Classical selections also stand out for Iturbi’s bracing articulation. True, the outer movements of his Mozart K. 331 and 332 sonata recordings are overly facile and insufficiently inflected when measured alongside contemporaneous Mozartean rivals like Schnabel, Gieseking, Fischer, and Haskil. Yet the sheer evenness and poised symmetry of Iturbi’s finger-work easily explains why pianists like Julius Katchen and William Kapell praised his Mozart.

Iturbi also revels in the Haydn C major Theme and Variations’ sly wit. By contrast, introspection and sobriety characterize Iturbi’s measured unfolding of Beethoven’s Andante favori. Similar gravitas elevates Paderewski’s Minuet in G to near-masterpiece status. Iturbi’s virtuosic glitter befits his dashing Saint-Saëns Allegro appassionato more than in his glib Liszt Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este.

Iturbi’s Chopin hits and misses. His Mazurkas lack the ardency and rhythmic snap that distinguishes a Second Scherzo that gets better as it progresses. Also note the pianist’s dotting the duple rhythms in the A-flat Polonaise’s main theme that Horowitz, Rubinstein, and Lhevinne play straight on their rival RCA versions.

The later recordings reveal Iturbi’s pianism losing some of its erstwhile luster and subtlety, possibly exaggerated by the close microphone placement and twangy patina typical of late 1940s/early 1950s piano recordings stemming from RCA’s Hollywood recording studio. For example, the two Debussy Arabesques recorded in New York in 1939 have a supple elegance missing in their glassy-sounding 1950 Hollywood counterparts (sound clips). The blustery, hard-toned, and harshly engineered Liszt Concerto No. 1, Mendelssohn Concerto No. 1, and Beethoven Concerto No. 3 were non-starters in their day, with the piano way up in the mix, relegating the crackerjack RCA Symphony musicians to doormat status. Still, the Mendelssohn’s outer movements feature some of Iturbi’s most scintillating pianism on disc.

While Iturbi’s two-piano distribution of the solo part of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is surprisingly effective and discreet, he and his pianist sister Amparo turn in a crass, alternately whipped up, and sappily sentimentalized interpretation. Works of Mozart, Debussy, and Milhaud better represent their dazzling ensemble rapport, but again, the boxy, claustrophobic engineering undermines their efforts. Similar dryness typifies Amparo’s idiomatic solo recordings of Spanish repertoire. Still, it’s nice to have her rare 1954 Granados Goyescas back in circulation, although it pales alongside Alicia de Larrocha’s far more nuanced and texturally differentiated interpretation from the following year.

The collection also showcases Iturbi’s work on the podium. His 1940 Rochester Philharmonic versions of the Mozart D minor and Beethoven C minor concertos are more judiciously balanced than his orchestrally superior 1952 RCA Victor Symphony remakes. Each contains lively and engaging outer movements that flank wooden, hard-toned slow movements.

Iturbi’s 1951 Liszt Hungarian Fantasy with the Valencia Symphony Orchestra has a snarling rawness that differs from the sheen and suavity of the 1952 Arrau/Ormandy and late 1940s Solomon and Moiseiwitsch editions. As with many second-tier American orchestras in the 1940s, the Rochester Philharmonic boasted strong strings but less proficient winds and brass. Consequently, Iturbi’s Mendelssohn “Scottish” Symphony took a back seat to Mitropoulos’ powerful 1941 Minneapolis version, while the aforementioned Dvorák New World lacked the Szell/Czech Philharmonic recording’s flavorful ensemble discipline.

The prize of Iturbi’s Rochester discography is a snazzy and brilliantly turned-out Morton Gould “Latin American” Symphonette, which is surprisingly well-engineered for its 1944 vintage. Another delightful curiosity is William J. Reddick’s Espanharlem, a brief orchestral work whose quick changing moods and jazzy underpinnings wouldn’t be out of place in a Carl Stalling Bugs Bunny cartoon soundtrack. There’s also a previously unpublished recording conducted by Werner Janssen of Iturbi’s orchestral composition Soliloquy. The piece amounts to 14 and a half minutes’ worth of rambling 1940s film music clichés filtered through third-rate Lecuona. Why Iturbi is credited as piano soloist when there’s no piano to be heard is anyone’s guess!

Notwithstanding the artistic unevenness of Iturbi’s recorded output he always had the self-respect to keep his technique in world-class repair, unlike his rival classical pianist turned media personality Oscar Levant. Still, music lovers who don’t want to go the whole hog, so to speak, are directed to APR’s 2016 three-disc solo Iturbi compilation. I also hope to see Iturbi’s post-cinema EMI recordings restored. However, beyond purely musical considerations, Sony/BMG’s collection stands as a valuable time capsule from which one comes away with a fuller understanding of Iturbi’s prominence in American wartime and postwar culture.

-- (Jed Distler)


    • Mozart: Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra No. 10 in E flat, K365
    • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466
    • Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, S124
    • Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25
    • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
    • Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
    • Chambers, J C: All American
    • Gould, M: Symphonette No. 4 'Latin-American'
    • Reddick: Espanharlem
    • Iturbi: Soliloquy
    • Mozart: Sonata for 2 pianos in D major, K448
    • Chabrier: Trois Valses Romantiques
    • Iturbi: Spanish Dance
    • Debussy: En blanc et noir
    • Milhaud: Scaramouche, suite for two pianos, Op. 165b
    • Nepomuceno: La siesta
    • Infante: Guadalquivir
    • Infante: Sevillana
    • Debussy: Suite bergamasque: Clair de lune
    • Liszt: Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 (Nocturne in A flat major)
    • Debussy: Rêverie
    • Beethoven: Für Elise (Bagatelle in A minor, WoO59)
    • Schumann: Arabeske in C major, Op. 18
    • Debussy: Deux arabesques, L. 66
    • Falla: Dance of Terror (from El amor brujo)
    • Rachmaninoff: Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 in C sharp minor
    • Liszt: Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este, S. 163 No. 4)
    • Falla: Ritual Fire Dance (from El amor brujo)
    • Saint-Saëns: Allegro appassionato, Op. 70
    • Albéniz: Malagueña (No. 3 from Espana, Op. 165)
    • Chopin: Étude Op. 10 No. 12 in C minor ‘Revolutionary'
    • Chopin: Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53 'Héroïque'
    • Debussy: Estampe No. 3 - Jardins sous la pluie
    • Schumann: Romance in F sharp major, Op. 28 No. 2
    • Chopin: Prelude Op. 28 No. 9 in E major
    • Chopin: Prelude Op. 28 No. 10 in C sharp minor
    • Chopin: Prelude Op. 28 No. 15 in D flat major ‘Raindrop'
    • Chopin: Nocturne No. 9 in B major, Op. 32 No. 1
    • López-Chavarri: El viejo castillo moro
    • Iturbi: Cancion de cuna
    • Granados: Orientale (No. 2 from 12 Danzas españolas)
    • Chopin: Mazurka No. 6 in A minor, Op. 7 No. 2
    • Chopin: Mazurka No. 7 in F minor, Op. 7 No. 3
    • Chopin: Mazurka No. 24 in C major, Op. 33 No. 3
    • Chopin: Mazurka No. 27 in E minor, Op. 41 No. 2
    • Chopin: Mazurka No. 25 in B minor, Op. 33 No. 4
    • Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31
    • Debussy: Children's Corner
    • Ravel: Jeux d'eau
    • Guastavino: Gato
    • Mozart: Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra No. 10 in E flat, K365
    • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466
    • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
    • Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
    • Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte
    • Bach, J S: Passacaglia in C minor, BWV582
    • Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K331 'Alla Turca'
    • Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major, K332
    • Chopin: Impromptu No. 4 in C sharp minor, Op. 66 'Fantaisie-Impromptu'
    • Chopin: Waltz No. 6 in D flat major, Op. 64 No. 1 'Minute Waltz'
    • Chopin: Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 64 No. 2
    • Chopin: Mazurka No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 7 No. 1
    • Albéniz: Sevilla (from Suite Española, Op. 47)
    • Granados: Goyescas: Quejas ó La Maja y el Ruiseñor
    • Scarlatti, D: Keyboard Sonata K27 in B minor
    • Scarlatti, D: Keyboard Sonata K159 in C major 'La caccia'
    • Paradies: Toccata in A
    • Iturbi: Pequena danza espanola
    • Beethoven: Andante Favori in F, WoO 57
    • Albéniz: Cantos de España (5), Op. 232, No. 4
    • Lazăr, F: Piano Sonata No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 15: III Tempo di Marcia funebre
    • Saint-Saëns: Caprice arabe, Op. 96
    • Debussy: L'isle joyeuse
    • Infante: Danze andaluse (for 2 pianos): No. 2 Sentimento
    • Debussy: Deux arabesques, L. 66
    • Bach, J S: Fantasia in C minor, BWV906
    • Granados: Danza española, Op. 37 No. 10 'Melancólica'
    • Gould, M: Boogie Woogie Etude
    • Gould, M: Blues
    • Falla: Ritual Fire Dance (from El amor brujo)
    • Falla: Dance of Terror (from El amor brujo)
    • Debussy: Suite bergamasque: Clair de lune
    • Liszt: Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 (Nocturne in A flat major)
    • Chopin: Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53 'Héroïque'
    • Schumann: Arabeske in C major, Op. 18
    • Debussy: Rêverie
    • Haydn: Theme and Variations in C major, Hob.XVII:5
    • Paderewski: Minuet in G major, Op. 14 No. 1
    • Beethoven: Für Elise (Bagatelle in A minor, WoO59)
    • Schumann: Träumerei (from Kinderszenen, Op. 15)
    • Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte
    • Rachmaninoff: Humoresque in G major, Op. 10 No. 5
    • Infante: Danses andalouses
    • Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, Op. 37b: June (Barcarolle)
    • Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, Op. 37b: November (Troika)
    • Mussorgsky: Une Larme (A Tear)
    • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 'Scottish'
    • Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 'From the New World'
    • Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody, S244 No. 14 in F minor
    • Falla: El sombrero de tres picos: Dance of the Neighbours (Seguidillas)
    • Falla: El sombrero de tres picos: Danza del molinero (farruca)
    • Falla: El sombrero de tres picos: Final Dance (Jota)
    • Palau Boix: Marche burlesque
    • Palau Boix: Hommage a Debussy
    • Iturbi: Seguidillas
    • Cuesta: Danza valenciana in A major
    • Falla: Siete Canciones populares españolas
    • Turina: Homenaje a Lope de Vega, Op. 90: I. Cuando tan hermosa os miro
    • Granados: Danza española, Op. 37 No. 8 'Sardana'
    • Granados: Danza española, Op. 37 No. 12 'Arabesca'
    • Granados: Danza española, Op. 37 No. 9 'Romántica'
    • Turina: Mujeres Españolas, Series 1, Op. 17: 2. La andaluza sentimental
    • Turina: Mujeres Españolas, Series 1, Op. 17: 3. La morena coqueta
    • Infante: Pochades andalouses: Canto flamenco
    • Infante: ochades andalouses: Danse gitane
    • Infante: Pochades andalouses: Aniers sur la route de Seville
    • Infante: Pochades andalouses: Tientos
    • Albéniz: Granada (from Suite española No. 1, Op. 47)
    • Albéniz: Córdoba (No. 4 from Cantos de España, Op. 232)
    • Cuesta: Danza valenciana in G major
    • Lecuona: Malagueña
    • Griffes: The White Peacock
    • Infante: Guadalquivir
    • Infante: Pochades andalouses: Ritmo
    • Mozart: Sonata for 2 pianos in D major, K448: Allegro molto
    • Granados: El Pelele
    • Granados: Goyescas (piano suite)
    • Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
    • Chabrier: Scherzo-valse (No. 10 from Pièces pittoresques)
    • Chabrier: Idylle (No. 6 from Pièces pittoresques)
    • Chabrier: Bourrée Fantasque
    • Schubert: Valses Sentimentales, D 779 Op. 50 (Excerpts)
    • Schubert: 12 Valses Nobles, D 969 Op. 77: selection
    • López-Chavarri: Danza de las labradoras Valencianas
    • Shostakovich: Prelude for piano, Op. 34 No. 2 in A minor
    • Shostakovich: Prelude for piano, Op. 34 No. 14 in E flat minor
    • Shostakovich: Prelude for piano, Op. 34 No. 24 in D minor
    • Fauré: Impromptu No. 3 in A flat major Op. 34
    • Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 13 in B flat major, K333

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 03, 2023

  • Catalog Number: 19439836502

  • UPC: 194398365022

  • Label: Sony Music Entertainment

  • Number of Discs: 16

  • Composer: Isaac Albeniz, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Lazar Berman, Manuel Palau Boix, Emmanuel Chabrier, J. Clarence Chambers, Frederic Chopin, Francisco Cuesta, Claude Debussy, Antonin Dvorak, Manuel de Falla, Gabriel Faure, George Gershwin, Glenn Gould, Enrique Granados, Charles Griffes, Carlos Guastavino, Joseph Haydn, Manuel Infante, Jose Iturbi, Ernesto Lecuona, Franz Liszt, Eduardo Lopez-Chavarri, Eduardo Lopez-Chavarri, Felix Mendelssohn, Darius Milhaud, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Modest Mussorgsky, Alberto Nepomuceno, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Pietro Domenico Paradisi, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, William J. Reddick, Joaquin Rodrigo, Camille Saint-Saens, Domenico Scarlatti, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Dmitri Shostakovich, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Joaquin Turina

  • Conductor: Jose Iturbi

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony of Los Angeles, Valencia Orchestra

  • Performer: Jose Iturbi, Amparo Iturbi