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Alexander Uninsky

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Alexander Uninsky was world-famous for his Chopin readings which brought out subtle finesse and a pearly tone, whereby the rubato in the right hand was accompanied by an impeccably accurate left. Consecrated by critics as an obvious successor to the supreme keyboard giants of earlier generations, Uninsky was called ‘great among the greatest’ and ‘Master of the Masters’ by the international press. Our discovery of rare French radio recordings brings his artistry back into the present and makes their first appearance on CD.

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ALEXANDER UNINSKY plays Mozart, Liszt, Stravinsky, Debussy and Prokofiev

1. MOZART: 8 Variations on ‘Come un agnello’, K.460/454a [11:02]
2. LISZT: Piano Sonata in B minor, HS.178 [29:54]
3-5. STRAVINSKY: Trois mouvements de Petrouchka [14:41]

Recorded ∙ 05 January 1959 ∙ Paris ∙ Studio RTF ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Radio Studio Recording

6. DEBUSSY: Reflets dans l’eau, Images, Livre I, L.110/1 [04:41]
7. DEBUSSY: La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune, Prélude No.7, Livre II, L.123/7 [03:48]
8. DEBUSSY: Feux d’artifice, Prélude No.12, Livre II, L.123/12 [03:54]
9. PROKOFIEV: Gavotte, Op.32, No.3 [02:06]
10. PROKOFIEV: Toccata, Op.11 [04:29]

Recorded ∙ 15 February 1962 ∙ Paris ∙ Studio RTF ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Radio Studio Recording

Additional Information

Article number: MC 1009
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050095
Total time: 74:37

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Boris Lipnitzki
With special thanks to Philip Uninsky for providing valuable information about his father.
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2014 Meloclassic

Alexander Uninsky was born of a musical family in Kiev, February 2, 1910. He started his piano studies at an early age and studied piano at the Kiev Conservatoire with Prof. Sergei Tarnovsky which had been opened in 1913, and whose other graduates included Vladimir Horowitz and Alexander Brailowsky. In the 1923, during Russian civil war his parents escaped to Paris. There the talented youngster was sent to the Conservatoire to continue his musical studies, where he studied with Isidor Philipp and Lazare Lévy. He was awarded the conservatory’s first prize for piano. In 1927, Uninsky graduated from the Conservatoire with honours and received a written reference letter from Alfred Cortot. He also studied at the Sorbonne and at the University of Advanced Political and Social Studies. In 1928, Uninsky made his celebrated Paris debut, captivating the public with his secure and precise technique and his exceptional musical culture. A South American manager was so impressed with the young pianist’s talent that he engaged him for a concert tour of Spain and South America.

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In 1932, Uninsky came to Warsaw to participate in the 2nd Chopin Competition. The Soviet government tried to block his participation, arguing that Uninsky was still a Soviet citizen and was not authorized by the Soviet government to participate; the French government intervened, according him status as a citizen. At the end of the second and final stage, the international jury gave equal marks to Uninsky and Hungarian pianist Imre Ungár. The competition rules stated that in such a case the winner would be determined by a draw. Uninsky was thus was awarded 1st Prize as well as the Polish Radio Prize for best performance of a Mazurka, in the form of a relief sculpture of Chopin. Victory at this competition in Warsaw brought Uninsky quick fame in Europe. Recitals in Paris, Berlin and London followed after which Uninsky made several European tours. When the clouds of the World War II began to loom, Uninsky was in the midst of a concert tour of the Far East.

He retraced his steps through the Suez Canal to French soil, reached Paris in the spring 1939 and joined the French army. His first assignment was with a French unit close to the border with Germany and when the German army broke through the French lines, he returned to Paris to try to protect his parents. He came too late, however, and his parents were taken by the Milice française (French Militia), deported, and died in Auschwitz. With the help of the underground resistance movement and along with thousands of Frenchmen, he fled on foot. His younger brother, Anatole, stayed in France, joining the Resistance in Brittany. His older brother, Choura, a painter, managed to survive as a prisoner of war in a German camp.

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He walked and bicycled 600 miles across France, and was captured in Spain, where Spanish fascists arrested him. He managed to escape and made his way to Portugal finally reaching Lisbon safely. With great difficulty he obtained permission to sail for South America and arrived in Buenos Aires in June, 1941. Over the course of a year, he managed to play in almost every country in Latin America. Arriving in the United States in January 1943 in New York, Uninsky found and married Lucie Bishkovitch, a French national, born January 19, 1919, the sister of his best friend who had died in the war. They had two children: Eliane (1948) and Philip (1952). His wife passed away on September 18, 2012. On the occasion of his Carnegie Hall recital debut, in 9th February 1943, playing Bach/Busoni’ Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, three Scarlatti Sonatas, Liszt’ Piano Sonata as well as a selection of Chopin’s works and Debussy’ Feux d’artifice, Ravel’ Miroirs, Stravinsky’ Petrushka. Olin Downes of the New York Tmes wrote that “Mr. Unisnky gave a big program in a big way, his style tending to the heroic with extraordinary power and brilliant bravura”. His debut recital had been followed by three successful transcontinental tours of the major cities both in concert and recitals. Within two years he had sky-rocketed to the top brackets of concert attractions in the United States.

In 1946, he returned back to Paris, where his daughter Eliane was born in 1948. Uninsky decided to emigrate the United States in 1952. Aside from one year at the Canadian Royal Conservatory (in 1955), he lived in New York City from 1952 to 1962. In 1962, he became a Professor and Artist-in-Residence at Southern Methodist University School of Music in Texas, where he headed the piano department. From 1952 until his death in 1972, he performed extensively in Europe and Latin America. It is by no means the case that he limited his performing during that period. He was often on tours that lasted most of the year. During the summers he was also an artist-in-residence at some of the most important music festivals in the United States, including Tanglewood and Aspen. At the beginning of 1973 he planned to organize a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his stage career. A concert in Warsaw – where his worldwide career was launched – was scheduled, but Uninsky’s untimely death brought an end to this project.

After a challenging life that often took heroic measures to survive as a humane man and creative artist, from experiencing civil war in Ukraine as a child, French anti-semitism before the War, to the many tribulations and tragedies in World War II and then being victimized by McCarthyism in the United States, Uninsky died in his sleep of sudden cardiac arrest on December 19, 1972, aged 62.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

The judges and the winners of the 2nd Chopin Competition in 1932.
1st row: 11th Emanuel Grossman (USSR), Olga Iliwicka (Poland), 8th Theodore Gutman (USSR), 6th Leonid Sagałow (USSR), 16th Lily Herz (Hungary), 7th Leon Boruński (Poland), 15th Suzanne de Mayere (Belgium), 5th Lajos Kentner (Hungary), 10th Kurt Engel (Austria)
2nd row: Zbigniew Drzewiecki (jury), Józef Smidowicz (jury), Arthur de Greef (jury), 2nd Imre Ungár (Hungary), 1st Alexandre Uninsky (stateless), Jerzy Zurawlew (jury), Marian Dabrowski (jury), Juri Chrominski (jury)
3rd row: 4th Abram Lufer (USSR), Maryla Jonas (Poland), Gyula Károlyi (Hungary), Josef Wagner (Germany)

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