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Julian von Károlyi

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Julian von Karolyi was one of the leading pianists of the 20th century, but has now unjustly faded into obscurity. The main attraction is Karolyi’s playing, a combination of deeply probing intellect, an exquisite touch and discerning dynamics in the delicate moments, stupendous virtuosity, and musicianship of the highest level. These concertos and piano works were recorded in the 1940s during World War II, at the height of his power, and are appearing on CD for the first time.


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JULIAN VON KÁROLYI plays Liszt, Debussy and Ravel ‘Wartime German Radio Recordings’

1-4. LISZT: Piano Concerto No.1 in E-flat Major, HS.124 [18:18]
Julian von Károlyi ∙ piano
Großes Berliner Rundfunkorchester
Johannes Schüler ∙ conductor
Recorded ∙ 18 March 1943 ∙ Berlin ∙ Masurenallee ∙ Haus des Rundfunks ∙ Saal 1 ∙ Reichssender Berlin ∙ Radio Studio Recording

5-8. LISZT: Piano Concerto No.2 in A Major, HS.125 [19:51]
Julian von Károlyi ∙ piano
Großes Berliner Rundfunkorchester
Heinzkarl Weigel ∙ conductor
Recorded ∙ 17 May 1943 ∙ Berlin ∙ Masurenallee ∙ Haus des Rundfunks ∙ Saal 1 ∙ Reichssender Berlin ∙ Radio Studio Recording

9. DEBUSSY: Prélude No.8 ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’, Livre I, L 117/8 [01:32]
10. DEBUSSY: Prélude No.9 ‘Sérénade Interrompue’, Livre I, L 117/9 [01:52]
11. DEBUSSY: Prélude No.12 ‘Feux d’artifice’, Livre II, L 123/12 [03:54]
12. RAVEL: Jeux d’eau [04:52]
13. RAVEL: Ondine, Gaspard de la nuit [05:27]
14. LISZT: Valse oubliée No.1 in F-sharp Major, HS.215 [02:23]
15. LISZT: La campanella, Grande étude de Paganini, HS.141/3 [04:16]

Recorded ∙ 08 October 1944 ∙ Berlin ∙ Masurenallee ∙ Haus des Rundfunks ∙ Saal 2 ∙ Reichssender Berlin ∙ Radio Studio Recording

Additional Information

Article number: MC 1012
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050125
Total time: 62:30

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Abraham Pisarek
With special thanks to Peter Ziegler
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2014 Meloclassic

Gyula Károlyi was born on January 31, 1914 in Losonc (Kingdom of Hungary), who later took German citizenship in 1956. He began learning the piano in early childhood with Louis Akom and Margit Varró in Budapest. He made his public debut performing a Mozart concerto with the Budapest Philharmonic when he was 12 years old (1926).

After his emigration to Germany in 1926, he changed his name to Julian von Károlyi. And continued his study with Josef Pembaur in Munich (1926), Max von Pauer in Leipzig (1927-1930), and eventually Alfred Cortot in Paris (1931). He returned to Budapest and entered the Franz Liszt Academy of Music and studied with Imre Ungár and Ernst von Dohnányi (1932-1934).


In 1932, Károlyi came to Warsaw at the age of 18 to take part in the Chopin Competition, where he took 9th Prize. The Warsaw press wrote: “Károlyi’s serious relationship with music set him apart from other competitors and made him the audience favourite. […] If Károlyi’s development as an artist follows its natural course then undoubtedly the world will talk of him.” One year after the Warsaw Competition, Károlyi entered the International Music Competition in Vienna. Pole Bolesław Kon took 1st Prize, Romanian Dinu Lipatti was second, and Károlyi reached the final stage but failed to place.

This did not hinder Károlyi’s international career, however. On 20th January 1933 he gave a highly praised performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E minor, in the presence of Hungarian Prince Regent Joseph and the diplomatic corpus. He intensively toured throughout European. His American debut took place at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1951, where he enjoyed particular renown. He was famous for his recital series during which he presented almost all of Chopin’s works. He also played many works by Liszt.

He also sat in the juries of international piano competitions and taught in Würzburg at the Hochschule für Musik.

Károlyi died on March 1, 1993 in Munich.

© 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)

Audiophile Audition Classical Review November 2014

Hungarian virtuoso Julian von Karolyi has his hour of fame in this dazzling restoration from MeloClassic.

Published on November 23, 2014

Julian von Karolyi = LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; Valse oubliee No. 1; La Campanella; DEBUSSY: Prelude No. 8 “La fille aux cheveux de lin”; Prelude No. 9 “Serenade Interrompue”; Prelude No. 12 “Feux d’artifice”; RAVEL: Jeux d’eau; Ondine – Julian von Karolyi, p./ Grosses Berliner Rundfunkorchester/ Johannes Schueler (E-flat Concerto)/ Heinzkarl Weigel – MeloClassic MC 1012, 62:30 [www.meloclassic.com]

The studio recitals captured here featuring Hungarian pianist Julian von Karolyi (nee Gyula Karolyi, 1914-1993) date from 1943 and 1944, and they reveal a tempered artist raised in the old-world European tradition which Alfred Cortot embodied and passed on to his acolytes. The plastic rubato and Romantic inflection Karolyi brings to the two Lisztconcertos – the E-flat Concerto (18 March 1943) and the A Major Concerto (17 May 1943) – superbly instantiate how thoroughly ingrained were his filigree and rhetorical strategies for the Liszt style, poetic as well as dramatic. Despite the distant sonic image, the visceral excitement of the occasion quite rivets our musical attention.

How utterly German is Karolyi’s approach to Debussy (8 October 1944), quick and alert, much in the style of E. Robert Schmitz. No sentimental pausen mark “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.” The “Interrupted Serenade” shimmers with nervous tremolos and idiomatic Spanish rhythm. Lovely shades of pedaled harmony and flying colors mark Debussy’s “Fireworks,” rife with cascading and broken arpeggios. A cold, sober but fervent approach, we might liken the Karolyi touch to the “philosophical” piano artistry of his “objective” contemporary Eduard Erdmann. The playing, robust and articulate, basks less in smeared colors that Gieseking attained by uncanny pedal effects. Karolyi’s Ravel, also beginning with a startling lack of “preparation time” between tracks, enjoys a spectacular color gloss. The Jeux d’eau absorbs much of the Liszt keybord technique and transposes the “Villa d’Este” to a liquid, silver bath of mercurial impulses. Suddenly, the demonic mermaid Ondine appears, the first of the Gaspard de la Nuit triptych. Themetric pulse periodic architecture, completely controlled and graduated by Karolyi, emanate a sensuality and digital finesse that warrants our hearing the entire suite, should it exist.

The hour-long recital concludes with Karolyi’s beloved Liszt, the coquettish Valse oubliee No. 1 in F-sharp Major and the ubiquitous Paganini Etude “La Campanella.” There is much of the later Gyorgy Cziffra in Karolyi’s quicksilver Valse, which moves with glib alacrity and impish grace, touched by melancholy. The “Little Bell” of Paganini proceeds with equally lithe confidence, the virtuosity on a level with what we have in Liszt from Mischa Levitzky, and that says something. The sheer fluency of repeated notes will stagger auditors who know something of wrist action and simultaneous degrees of competing touches. Bravura playing that retains its wits and its poise needs more publicity, so let us have more of the Karolyi legacy.

© Gary Lemco

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