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Len Mullenger:

ABRAMS, Daniel.

Fantasie Variations on Tales Of Love .
Daniel Abrams (piano).
Fantasie Variations on Wagner's Tristan und Isolde;
Chaconne on Dido's Lament from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas ;
Fantasie on Weber's Der Freischutz.
Tristan Music TM-100 (DDD) (41.25)

This is a "short" disc with playing time of under 45 minutes.

The cover picture is Waterhouse's Lady of Shallott, a very beautiful picture which has always appealed to me.

It was largely due to the great Franz Liszt that opera was brought to the public who may not have had any initial interest in opera. Liszt transcribed opera passages and overtures and wrote paraphrases on opera themes often unfairly dismissed as merely pot-pourri. But his noble intention was to make opera better known. Daniel Abrams has this same passion. The point is made in the brief sleeve-note that love is the essence of opera. People die for it, anguish over it, make dubious contracts to acquire it, sacrifice for it and go through endless trials to prove their worthiness for it. Tristan und Isolde is, without doubt, the greatest opera of them all. It is the unassailable masterpiece that few operas can ever approach. Wagner's harmonies are so original and the only subsequent musician to write such original harmonies in the tonal tradition was Duke Ellington.

I was brought up on the 1952 recording of Tristan conducted by Furtwangler with Flagstad and Fischer-Dieskau. The whole performance was first rate and the second act absolutely stunning. I cannot listen to the Liebestod without being moved. It is the most sublime and perfect of "arias" and what magnificent orchestration. I recall many notable performances particularly by Anya Silja who celebrated her 60th birthday this year, the first year of the new millennium And if you can find a performance by the wonderful Frida Leider. get it!.

Abrams variations are rather introspective and. a trifle lack-lustre. His work is not virtuosic as is Liszt's. This is why Dido's Lament Fantasie is far better because music of that time was not virtuosic and neither is this extended transcription. Listening to this also brought back many memories particularly that of our greatest contralto, Sybil Michelow. This Chacone works. It is an effective piece. The aria itself is, for its time, as gorgeous as Wagner's Liebestod.

Weber wrote joyful music and Wagner referred to him as the father of German opera. Der Freischutz has a stupid plot as inane as television dramas such as Star Trek. The opera deals with a pact with the Devil for some magic bullets.

But the music in the opera is choice. And it is clear that Abrams loves the music for his exposition reveals that.

The piano tone is occasionally slightly suspect. The music is well-written but not outstanding. Abrams is not a Liszt.

But it is an interesting disc, attractively presented. I hope it finds many friends.

David Wright 




The publishers has this to say:

This new CD by pianist Daniel Abrams is a treat for all who love both opera and piano. Abrams took the classical musical world by storm when he made his New York City debut at Town Hall back in the late 50's. The "NYTimes" said that he must henceforth be considered one of the most important American pianists of his generation. In Europe they compared his playing to be equal in musicianship to Rubenstein and in technique to Horowitz. What happened to him after he survived a crash landing while on tour in S. America in the 60's is a long and interesting story. But most important is that he has finally resurfaced. Abrams started writing "Fantasie Variations on Tristan und Isolde" (the featured work on his new CD) following a dream in which Wagner came and spoke three words to him. This is not a transcription. The music is, however, based on themes and motifs from the opera and written in the style of the composer. It is truly an ode to Wagner by a pianist who has long wished to be able to include a significant piano work by Wagner in his concerts and who hopes in his next lifetime to be a heldentenor. NPR will be airing the Tristan Variations on Nov. 25 on "At The Opera" following a performance of "Tristan und Isolde" by The Houston Grand Opera. Many other exciting things are beginning to happen to this recently released CD (it is presently available over the Internet site Also on the CD is Fantasia on "Der Freischutz" and Chaconne on Dido's Lament from "Dido and Aeneas."

PS Incidentally, Daniel Abrams studied with Harold Craxton at The Royal Academy of Music. Also worked with Howard Ferguson and Lennox Berkeley. Daniel was also responsible for the start of The Hoffnung Music Festival (a work of his is on the first recording).  


Annetta Hoffnung, widow of Gerard Hoffnung would like to make it clear that although Daniel Abrams made an arrangement of a Chopin Mazurka for tuba quartet, which appears on the EMI recordings, and he was in that sense involved in the First Hoffnung Festival, he was in no way an instigator of the Festival as he has claimed on more than one occasion and indeed, Annetta Hoffnung only met him once. The Hoffnung concerts have subsequently been produced throughout the world but there has never been a repeat performance of the Abrams' transcription.

In response to Annetta Hoffnung's statement that Daniel Abrams was not involved in the founding of The Hoffnung Music Festival........

Approximately one year before the first Hoffnung Music Festival, Daniel Abrams met Gerard Hoffnung via an introduction by Howard Ferguson. Abrams needed an ocarina player for his "Intimate Trio" (4 players) and a tuba player for his tuba quartet version of three popular Chopin piano works that were scheduled to be performed at a concert on "All Fools' Day." Gerard Hoffnung fit the bill in both cases. This concert, presented by The London Friends of Music, took place on All Fools' Day, 1955, in the Royal Festival Hall and was a huge success. Paul Badura-Skoda was the fourth player in Abrams' "Intimate Trio," in the scherzo for silent keyboard. (This work was written in l953 and initially performed at The Aspen Music Festival.) There were other musical aberrations including the lst movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with a soprano soloist, and Benjamin Britten as one of the toy trumpeters in Haydn's "Toy Symphony." The publisher of Hoffnung's cartoons, Punch Magazine, was in the audience at this concert and that led subsequently to the development of what came to be known as "The Hoffnung Music Festival."

Daniel Abrams, and his wife, Sonia, were at the Hoffnung house on more than one occasion, whether Annetta knew it or not, during preparations for the original "All Fools' Day" concert.

PS Daniel Abrams is still owed royalties by Angel Records on the first Hoffnung record since l960.

(now closed Ed.)

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