If the artistic identities of some performers are bound up with the recording companies that preserved their music-making -- Artur Rubinstein with RCA Red Seal, for example, or Yo-Yo Ma with the crossover-friendly incarnation of Sony/CBS -- then the face of the Naxos label and its repertory-based, high-volume, low-budget ways may well be Hungarian pianist Jenö Jandó. He has recorded a wide variety of repertory for that label, with Hungarian music strongly represented, but by no means preponderant.
Jandó was born in the southern Hungarian city of Pécs on February 1, 1952. His mother taught him to play the piano, and he went on to study at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. When he was 18 he took third place in the prestigious Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna, bringing his name before audiences beyond Hungary. He won the Sydney (Australia) International Piano Competition in 1987, but he didn't become a familiar figure to U.S. album buyers until after the founding of Naxos by the German-born, Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Klaus Heymann in the late 1980s. Jandó was one of the first artists to emerge from Naxos' efforts to record Eastern European artists on a larger scale than any organization outside the former East bloc had previously done. A Hungarian contact sent a tape of Jandó's playing to the company, and he was picked for one of the new company's showcase products: a complete recording of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. Jandó followed those up with complete tours through Mozart's piano sonatas and concertos, Bach's entire Well-Tempered Clavier, Bartók's piano concertos, and the comparatively rarer Haydn keyboard sonatas. Jandó continued to explore the heart of the traditional repertory, delving into Schubert's sonatas and undertaking a mammoth survey of Bartók's complete piano music. He has also performed chamber music, inclining toward Hungarian compositions, and he also serves as accompanist to his wife, mezzo-soprano Tamara Takács.
What has suited Jandó so well to the Naxos operation? He is an ideal jack-of-all-classical-trades. His familiarity with the piano literature is wide, and his musical memory is legendary: though he always brings scores of the works he is to play with him to a recording session, he simply lays them to one side and performs from memory. Like Glenn Gould, Jandó is given to humming along with his own playing -- a tendency his producers forestall by placing an unlit cigarette in his mouth. Although he has not entered the trend of historical performance wholeheartedly, he has recorded music of Liszt on the composer's own piano. Jandó has expressed the ambition to cap off his career by recording a second complete Beethoven sonata set -- something previously undertaken only by a select group of the keyboard elite. As of the late 2010s, Jandó has not yet realized that ambition, but he did record a large amount of piano music by Schubert in the mid-2000s. He has continued to record exclusively for Naxos. His output has slowed somewhat in the 2010s but has continued to feature unusual works such as the rare piano version of his Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross, recorded in 2014. In 2018, Jandó recorded Haydn's 10 kleine Klavierstücke (Ten Short Piano Pieces) and 24 Minuets, both unusual Haydn sets. Volumes in his Bartók survey have also continued to appear, as did his 2020 recording Franz Liszt: Historical Hungarian Portraits.
© James Manheim /TiVo