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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Nonet for Cor anglais, Clarinet, Bassoon, two Violins, Viola, Cello, Double Bass and Piano (1850)
Grande Sérénade Concertante for piano, clarinet, French horn and cello, op. 126
Consortium Classicum
Claudius Tanski (piano)
rec. May 1994, Furstliche Reitbahn, Arolsen, Germany DDD



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MDG are a most adventurous record label and are to be congratulated for making available many pieces from lesser-known composers. This release of two rare and attractive chamber scores from the Vienna-born composer Carl Czerny is one such example. The release is marked volume 1, so more such recordings from Czerny seem likely.

The MDG website carries the following information “The series debuts with the world premiere recordings of two important works by Carl Czerny, pupil of Beethoven and teacher of Liszt. Joining the acclaimed Consortium Classicum ensemble is the young pianist Claudius Tanski, whose MDG recordings have won critical acclaim.” From the recording date of 1994 I’m not sure where the recordings have been for eleven years. However there is now another recording of the Grande Sérénade Concertante, Op. 126 available in the catalogue, on the Meridian label CDE 84310.

Czerny’s name, even during his own lifetime, became known to the public more as a pedagogue than as a composer worthy of serious consideration. Little has changed up to the present day as his reputation is associated with dreadful memories of piano lessons even though his value and considerable legacy to piano teaching cannot be overestimated.

A child prodigy on the piano, Czerny as a nine year old, gave his first public performance in Vienna playing Mozart's Piano Concerto in C minor, K.491. The extremely well connected Czerny met the acquaintance of Hummel, Chopin, Beethoven and Clementi as a young man. In later years he became highly regarded by composers of the stature of Liszt and Beethoven who both played and encouraged him in his compositional endeavours. Beethoven influence was immeasurable. He chose Czerny as his pupil to give the first Vienna performance of the Piano Concerto No. 5 in 1812. Czerny also gave weekly concerts at his home that he devoted exclusively to Beethoven’s piano music. Many of these events were attended by Beethoven himself.

The prolific Czerny composed an astonishing thousand works in almost every sacred and secular genre. In particular his numerous technical studies and exercises, continue to be widely used by piano students around the world. Sadly a very large number of his non-scholastic works have gone out of print or were never published at all and have been largely forgotten by history. Perhaps Czerny’s over-production diluted his creative powers; consequently a host of his lesser quality works have led the high calibre ones into undeserved obscurity.

Housed in the Vienna City Library the Nonet for piano, winds and strings, from 1850 is a work of classical form and expression and is really a concerto for piano and small orchestra. The booklet incorrectly describes the instrumentation as cor anglais clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano, which is ten instruments, but there is no horn part. Aside from the predominant piano the instrumentation is related to Schubert’s Octet D.803 and Beethoven’s Septet op. 20 with the exception that Czerny employs a cor anglais instead of the oboe and horn. The piano is almost constantly in action throughout the work and the part is lengthier than that of many a typical piano concerto yet blends in reasonably well with the other eight instruments.

The opening movement allegro maestoso is lengthy at nearly thirteen minutes and is a mixture of concerto and sonata. It is hard to focus on anything other than Claudius Tanski’s extrovert and exciting piano part. The calming and gentle second movement andante is a sort of varied song with a dramatic middle section in which Consortium Classicum provide a lightness of touch with appropriate sensitivity. Harmonically the movement gravitates towards the Romantic style and it is good to hear instruments other than the piano participating so productively to which Consortium Classicum respond admirably.

The players of Consortium Classicum are intense and full-blooded in the dramatic and inventive scherzo with its contrastingly lyrical central trio section. The piano intones a song reminiscent of Schubert’s Trout Quintet and some Viennese elements can be detected, especially in the extended passage for violin. The finale is preceded by an unusual introduction-andante that features the wind-piano and string-piano dialogue. In the allegretto vivace section there is a mixture of the rondo and sonata forms. This ensemble have much to offer in the closing movement that contains considerable technical challenges for the piano in which Claudius Tanski proves more than equal to the task.

The Grande Sérénade Concertante, op. 126 contains the colourful combination of piano, clarinet, horn and cello. This extraordinary and exciting published score was composed in 1827 and the unusual choice of instrumentation demonstrates that Czerny was going his own independent way to obtain original tone effects.

The piano part predominates but is integrated more than in the Nonet. It never swamps the other instruments that are provided with a reasonable share of material. Czerny’s writing ensures that each of the four players is faced with technical demands of the highest order.

Czerny wrote about his ability to play by heart and with complete accuracy everything that Beethoven and many other composers wrote for the piano. In view of this it is not surprising that the Grande Sérénade Concertante contains several reminiscences of Beethoven especially of the Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos. There is also a reference to Schubert’s Variations for flute and piano op.160.

The demands of the twelve minute long set of theme and variations for each instrument is handled with intelligence and fluency. The players display a subtle control in the peaceful and delightful adagio that provides a short yet welcome respite from what has gone before. The polished playing is beautifully balanced in the allegro vivace con fuoco closing movement. Throughout the score it is difficult not to acknowledge Tanski’s superbly stylish and radiant playing. He makes an outstanding contribution.

This is a well recorded release from MDG Gold that will delight chamber music lovers.

Michael Cookson




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