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Emil von SAUER (1862-1942)
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor (publ. 1901)
Cinq Morceaux de difficulté moyenne (1909)
Marche in G major
Petite Etude in E flat major
Valse lente

Petite Scène de Ballet in D major (1908)
Menuet (Vieux style) in B flat major (1904)
Polka de Concert in A major (1895)
Galop de Concert (Etude-Galop) in A flat major (1899)
Oleg Marshev (piano)
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/James Loughran
Recorded Frichsparken, Aarhus and Symfonien, Aalborg, September 2002


Who would have thought, a few scant years ago, that we would now have such an embarrass de richesse of Emil von Sauer on compact disc? Not only have Marston and Arbiter covered this Liszt pupil’s commercial and off-air legacy with some comprehensive aplomb but also Danacord have given his compositions the same honour and encyclopaedic zeal. This is Volume 6 in their series and it give us the first ever recording of the Second Piano Concerto – you may have caught the First on Hyperion – coupling it with some charming morceaux.

In fact Sauer always dismissed his Liszt connections – one of the honourable few to do so – whilst insisting that his main influence had been Nicholas Rubinstein. One thing is for sure however and the recorded evidence supports the assertion – his technique remained formidable into his late seventies. As a composer his range of influences are of the Saint-Saëns/Brahms/Schumann kind, no bad thing. He also shows a welcome interest in mildly exotic sonorities and filtered Russian and Eastern influences - at least he does in the Second Concerto. This is a one-movement work, half an hour in duration and inter-connected thematically. There are four distinct sections. It was first published in 1901 and premiered by the soloist-composer in Berlin the following year, the conductor being none other than Richard Strauss. Whereas the First Concerto was fairly light, the Second is more dramatic and complex, though not necessarily superior as a work of art. The opening oboe line, so spicily and evocatively Eastern in orientation, sets up promising vistas of influence – say an analogue of the Japanese influence on Van Gogh. But in truth the local colour is fleeting and not really internalised and Sauer doesn’t much pursue it. The piano enters immediately after, its figuration musing and contemplative, decorative, before some Romantic-Virtuoso writing is unleashed. Sauer makes strong play of a trumpet/piano exchange – delightfully intimate in places – and throws in a rather trite-sounding humorous children’s tune, some stolid cymbal work and a generally playful patina. It’s noticeable that for all the earlier intimations of Romantic fervour, Sauer for the most part discreetly downplays the piano rhetoric. There’s a deftly turned Scherzo (marked Vivacissimo (attacca) with fine runs and a Hungarian-sounding folk section as well as more relaxed contrastive material. Throughout the Concerto Sauer proves he is in control of the many and disparate moods (too many in truth but he was always rather profligate with his ideas) and so his slow movement is a gloriously burgeoning one, with a memorable series of ideas from 6.50 that soar unashamedly. There are hints of Liszt along the way before he turns ceremonial in the finale, plush, rhythmic, not taking itself too seriously and with lightness a-plenty and plenty of looks back at earlier material which he weaves none too academically in to the score.

The Cinq Morceaux de difficulté moyenne were dedicated to his daughter and are charming genre pieces. They are the kind of thing that Sauer was most known for, on record at least, and some examples of his own playing of the like have been preserved on disc. The Petite Étude is particularly felicitous, Chopin haunts the Valse lente and Brahms stands behind the Berceuse. The final four pieces on the disc are a grouping of known and unknown. The Menuet lauds Old Vienna and the Galop de Concert is a work we know from Sauer’s own playing of it – as ever Marshev, whom I haven’t so far mentioned, is right inside the genre. There’s no sign that he considers any of this music run of the mill and he plays throughout with outstanding sympathy and delicate colouration – not to mention command of the idiom. It’s good to see James Loughran on the rostrum and on disc. He brings out all the orchestral piquancies and romantic swellings with all his accustomed and unselfconscious finesse.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by John France

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