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Alexander Borovsky

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Although he was veteran of some 2,500 world-wide concerts in his 47 years of performing, Alexander Borovsky never achieved quite the reputation he deserved, but that happened also to other once famous pianists like Barentzen and Uninsky. Borovsky paid more attention to romance and drama than to linear coherence, using lots of rubato and flexibility of rhythm to achieve a variety of stunning effects. This CD contains a surviving live recorded recital in Paris, France in 1953, that has never been published before and aims to bring his artistry back into the present.


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ALEXANDER BOROVSKY – The legendary Paris Recital 1953

1-2. BACH/LISZT: Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 [11:53]
3-9. BACH: French Suite No.5 in G Major, BWV 816 [12:18]
10-13. BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op.101 [18:28]
14. BRAHMS: Intermezzo in B-flat minor, Op. 117/2 [04:14]
15. BRAHMS: Intermezzo in C Major, Op. 119/3 [02:49]
16. CHOPIN: Ballade No.2 in F Major, Op.38 [07:25]
17. CHOPIN: Étude No.4 in A minor, Op.25 [01:48]
18. CHOPIN: Étude No.6 in G-sharp minor, Op.25 [02:11]
19. CHOPIN: Étude No.4 in C-sharp minor, Op.10 [02:55]
20. LISZT: Consolation No.3 in D-flat Major, HS.172 [04:29]

Recorded · 23 March 1953 · Paris · Salle Pleyel · Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française · Live Recording

Additional Information

Article number: MC 1020
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050200
Total time: 68:34

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: William Jones Jr.
With special thanks to William Jones Jr.
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Alexander Kirillovitch Borovsky was born in Mitau, the Latvian province of Courland, Russia, on March 19, 1889. He received his first piano lessons when he was 7 years old from his mother, Vera Vilhelmovna Vengerova (1862-1926), an accomplished pianist and pupil of Vassily Safonoff. He made astonishing progress but his mother, concerned that he should not grow up as a wunderkind, made sure that school lessons had first priority. In 1907, when he was eighteen years old, the family moved to St. Petersburg. There, he entered the Law Faculty and the Conservatoire at the same time, having earned full scholarships at both Institutions by having graduated from Libau High School with a Gold Medal. He completed both career studies, because his mother thought he should have one more arrow in his professional quiver; in case a musical career did not work out, he could become a lawyer, like his father. At the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, his teacher was Annette Essipova (1851–1914), who was once married (1880) to Theodor Leschetizky and later divorced (1892). And one of his contempories was Sergei Prokofiev. They became friends and Prokofiev often visited the Borovsky family in whose apartment Madame Borovsky had her private piano school. There, Borovsky heard Prokofiev play his early compositions like Visions Fugitives as they were in the process of being created. Prokofiev was full of praise for Borovsky and remained so for many years thereafter, when both men toured the concert halls of the world. Having already earned an Honorable Mention as a young pupil, in the International 1910 Anton Rubinstein 5-yearly Piano Competition, Borovsky graduated in 1912 with a Gold Medal and the Anton Rubinstein Prize, which consisted of a grand piano, the same prize which Prokoviev would win the year thereafter as pianist-composer, with his First Piano Concerto.

Borovsky started his concert career in Russia, touring the immense country with enthusiasm. Then, the First World War broke out and just as he was worrying about how this might affect his career and the possibilities for travel abroad, he was appointed Professor at the Moscow Conservatoire in the Fall of 1915-1920 at the written invitation of Heinrich Neuhaus, giving Master Classes to advanced pupils. He taught piano to the nephews of Tsar Nicholas II in their palace at Pavlovsk. Borovsky had participated actively in the immediate memorial concerts following Scriabin’s April death in 1915 as well as in the First Anniversary of Scriabin’s death in 1916. Concurrently, he continued to give recitals. He was able to continue these activities during and after the Revolution, but by 1920, during the Civil War, he felt that it would be better to leave Russia. Without a clear plan how this could be done, he arranged with the Director of the Moscow Conservatoire to go on an inspection tour to music schools in regions in the South of Russia which had come under Red Army control. Once there, he managed to cross into Georgia, an independent state since the Revolution but already under threat to be invaded by the Red Army.


In Tiflis, he gave concerts together with the Russian cellist Evsei Belousov, whom he had met during his journey. Together, they managed to leave Russia and by way of Constantinople and Italy, they arrived in Paris at the beginning of 1921, after having given various concerts on the way. Borovsky and Belousov started to give recitals in Paris in April 1921. These were a success and they were soon invited to play in London, Berlin and Vienna. The real breakthrough for Borovsky came when the Russian conductor Sergei Koussevitzky invited him to participate in the “Trois Festivals de Musique Russe” in Paris. On April 29, 1921, he played the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky and on May 6, 1921 the piano scores of Le Poème du Feu (Promethée) of Scriabin. Reviews were enthusiastic and this resulted in many invitations to give recitals and concerts. In 1921, Russian émigré colonies around the world were settling in as it became clear that the Civil War was being won by the Red Army. Paris became a favorite place for Russians, due to its relative closeness to Russia as compared with, for example, the United States. Borovsky met his wife, Maria “Moussia” Viktorovna Sila-Nowicki in Paris in 1922 and got married around Christmas 1922. He made several tours of Europe, and in the spring, they left on a long trip by ocean steamers, first to Brazil, from there to Argentina and finally to the United States, where he made his debut in New York on October 17, 1923, when his programme included music by Bach, Mozart, Prokofieff, Scriabin, Stravinsky, de Falla, Albeniz, Liszt. On November 13, 1923 he gave a recital with the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman at Carnegie Hall. When they returned to France in December 1923, they initially shared an apartment with Lina and Serge Prokofiev, in Sèvres, just outside Paris. Moussia gave birth to a daughter, Natalya, on August 5, 1924. Two days after Natalya was born, Serge Koussevitzky and his wife were in town, and they came to see our baby. The following season (1924-1925) he returned to America for a brief tour, owing to the fact that he was booked for a concert tour of twelve concerts in the Balkans, eight in Germany, twelve in Scandinavia, five in London and six in Paris. The next season he returned to America for the months of January and February. Published in 1928, the French composer Roussel’s only Piano Concerto had its first performance in Paris on June 21 of that year, under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky, Borovsky playing the solo part. Borovsky subsequently played the work with various European orchestras.

After spending the 1929 season in Berlin and then taking up residence there in 1930, their marriage did not last. Borovsky and Moussia separated in the spring of 1931, just over eight years after their marriage. In his Memoirs, looking back some thirty years later, Borovsky had the following to say, “It was in Germany that I was living with my wife for the last time. During the seven and a half years of my married life, I was so much away from home, wherever we lived, that once, coming home when my daughter was about one and a half years old, she was not sure who I was and was speaking to herself, as if asking herself, whether this was her Daddy or not. She pronounced the word ‘Papa’ with a definite question mark in her expression. And it was always the same thing: when I came home tired from my travels and the constantly being in public, surrounded by people, I dreamed of coming home, to be with my wife and daughter, and then to immerse myself immediately into the practicing, to polish my neglected technique, and to renew my repertoire for the next season.

But my wife, who avoided all social contacts during my travels, being a beautiful young woman who was often subjected to excessive attention from several men, waited for the moment of my return in order to immerse again into the social life which she liked above all the rest. So I had to go to the lunches, to the dinners, to other receptions, to go to the opera with her, to the concerts, to the theatres, to receive many people at home whom I often did not know enough – altogether to lead a life which was like my life during my travels – only without the concerts which not only gave me the possibility to verify my interpretations, but also were giving me the means to go on, to continue the good life which we both liked to have. All this did not help me in my progress in the music, this was detrimental to my success with the concerts, this created a tense and heavy atmosphere in my home. This all alienated me from Maria more and more. She probably understood it herself and during my last time with her in Berlin, I noticed that she was paying attention to the conversations with a man with an Italian name who was constantly at her side, even when I came home myself. I did not pay attention to it, but when some time later I was told that she will leave me, divorce from me, and marry this man, I was shocked.” Interviewed in 1934 he said, “I suppose I look anything but a pianist. More like a ship’s engineer. Well that is nothing, for in New York once I was suspected of being a bit of a pugilist. A reporter from a boxing paper called on me and asked me what sort of physical jerks I took to enable me to play with such vigour. It must be understood, that strength in playing is not much physical effort as emotional effort – it is correct pressure on the keys that produces a perfect fortissimo, not powerful banging. That is why I think men are much better pianists than women. They can get the most out of the piano without conscious physical effort, and have you not heard it said that a man’s touch is so much more soften than a woman’s.”

In 1941 Borowsky settled in the USA, appeared regularly in public and made many recordings. He remained one of Koussevitzky’s favourite concerto partner. In 1946 he returned to Europe performing in the major cities such as Vienna, Paris, Madrid and Copenhagen. He appeared with renowned conductors such as Felix Weingartner, Serge Koussevitzky, Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Eugene Bigot, Charles Munch, George Szell, John Barbirolli, Josef Krips, Paul Paray, Eduard van Beinum and Ferenc Fricsay. In 1956 he became professor at the Boston University. In 1958 he played over educational station WGBH-TV on an 11-weeks series of 30-minute live to a presentation of the 48 fugues and preludes of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier.

Borowsky died on April 27, 1968 in Waban, USA.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

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