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Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
Piano Works Vol. 4
Exotische Rhapsodie Op. 118 (1917) [14:01]
Zwielicht-Impressionen (1913) [4:33]
Heidebilder Op. 127 (1917) [17:00]
Zwei Klavierstücke (1902) [8:03]
Nächtlicher Regen [2:53]
Mosaik Op. 146 [27:27]
Ernst Breidenbach (piano)
rec. Lazarus-Kirche, Nieder-Ramstadt, 9-12 January 2004 DDD
CPO 999773-2 [74:00]

Karg-Elert was a teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory and made his name as an organist. He composed much in various forms, including for the harmonium, but for me has hitherto been a “one-hit wonder” – the hit being the Marche Triomphale for organ “Nun danket alle Gott”. Christopher Howell gave Volume 2 of this piano series a rather mixed review in 2001, noting the credit given to the piano tuner. In this respect Andreas Berg is still at his exercise with good results but it might have been more interesting to know what make of piano was used. The back liner has KAWAI pianos emblazoned in red in the corner but whether it is an advert or a clue I couldn’t be sure. Still, there are no reservations about the sound on this disc.

We are told that pianist Ernst Breidenbach has “concertized” in many German cities. I thought this a translation aberration until I discovered that the word exists in an on-line dictionary. That aside, he seems at home in this repertoire which mainly consists of miniatures. The exotic rhapsody which opens the disc is the only individual piece with a span of more than six minutes and some of the studies which form the last work – Mosaik – are very fleeting indeed. The common characteristic might be thought of as “German impressionism”, Karg-Elert’s natural roots mixed up with Debussy and the main emphasis is on tonal colour.
The opener, Exotische Rhapsodie has a subtitle – Jungle Impressions. This is a highly original work which contains a veritable jungle of cleverly interwoven material. Three “Twilight impressions” follow and then Heidebilder (Heath pictures) which is a series of 10 brief named impressions. This music moves generally moves slowly across the heath, observing nature closely on the way. The two pieces which follow – Moto perpetuum and Arabeque are relatively early and rather less individual. Nächtlicher Regen (Nocturnal rain) was published as a stand alone piece and is a particularly attractive work.
Karg-Elert’s imagination goes into overdrive in Mosiak – his last published work, a series of 29 “instructive pieces” i.e. studies. The first three are grouped together as a Sonatine in homage to the likes of Clementi and next five constitute a mock-baroque Suite complete with Sarabande and Rigaudon. After that, each piece has its own title and there is no obvious pattern. Karg-Elert’s mission here was to make his point concisely – none of the twenty-nine pieces lasts over two minutes and the shortest takes a mere twenty-three seconds. Most remarkable of all is number 24 (track 41) “Puh! Die essen ja Menschenfleisch!” which is about cannibalism and contains written text: “njan-ja-ho”. Here the pianist vocalises this although it is apparently not clear that this was Karg-Elert’s intention. The effect is quite bizarre. Nevertheless, these pieces are worth listening to and contain some of the most striking music on the disc. Karg-Elert became ill and died just as Hitler came to power. He was hardly mainstream in Leipzig beforehand and it is hard to imagine that he would have thrived under the new regime whilst writing such music.
There are good notes which are mainly focused on the music and an English translation which is about par for this source.
Overall, this is a typically interesting CPO offering which is well worth giving a spin. We should be grateful to them for their continuing exploration of such by-ways of the repertoire.
Patrick C Waller


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