This CD combines two things that have always given me great pleasure - the
underrated composer and the piano concerto. Here Danacord have given us in
'Volume 2' of a projected series, three fine examples of nineteenth century
essays in this form. All three concerti are worthy of study and any one of
them would be a 'pull' at the concert hall were they ever to be given a chance.
Groves dictionary could not help me with August Winding. However the
programme notes are informative and give a brief account of his life and
Winding was the son of a clergyman who had a passion for collecting and arranging
Danish folk songs. Naturally, August studied with his father. Soon, however,
he was to move to greater things; he studied piano with Anton Ree who had
known Chopin. This was followed by composition lessons with Carl Reinecke
and theory with no less a person than Niels W. Gade, the father of Danish
In the first instance Winding was a pianist. He made quite an impression
both in Denmark and in concert halls and recital rooms throughout Europe.
His specialities were the concerti of Mozart and Beethoven. He enjoyed playing
in chamber ensembles as well as performing as a recitalist. From 1867 he
taught at the conservatoire in Copenhagen.
The programme notes suggest that August Winding is unfairly remembered only
for a few hymn tunes. However, he wrote much other music - including a symphony,
chamber works, songs, piano pieces and of course our two present pieces.
The first work given on this CD is the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
in A minor. It is Opus 16 (not Opus 19 as the typographical error on
the CD notes suggest) which by a strange coincidence is the same opus number
as Grieg's concerto in the same key!
However, please do not look for another Grieg concerto.
Winding's concerto is in three movements - an 'andantino' surrounded by two
allegros. There is no doubt that from its flamboyant opening in the tonic
key that this is a virtuosi piece. It seems very much at home in the world
of romantic concertos. The immediate impression is that the piano is well
balanced with orchestra, all the figuration being clear and well defined.
The second subject is not so much a 'sentimental' tune as a change in tempo
from the opening material. The characteristic figurations are ever present.
The first movement finishes in the home key - no triumph just yet. There
are times in this movement and in the rest of the concerto where one is almost
reminded of Rachmaninov. But more of that later. The programmes notes suggest
that the composer most influencing Winding is Gade himself. However to my
ear there is the whole fabric of romantic piano concerti underlying this
work. There was a lot of exciting music in the air at that time.
The slow movement is the absolute heart of this work. It is no exaggeration
to say that this is perhaps one of the loveliest things in the piano concerto
literature. After a somewhat mundane few opening bars, the piano solo leads
in to a long drawn Chopin-esque nocturne, with nods to Liszt and even to
later masters. One wishes that the music would go on forever. It is so well
structured with the balance between the piano and orchestra gently changing
throughout the entire movement. It is quite a passionate movement, which
would easily become a favourite was it allowed to become well known. The
penultimate orchestral statement followed by the piano commentary would bring
a tear to most hardened anti-romantic.
The last movement, if anything, is the weakest link in this piece. However
this is being churlish. What we have here is a fine piece of music, which
is beautifully played by the Russian pianist Oleg Marshev. It is an example
of how a pianist/composer is able to give a fine work for his or her chosen
medium. It may not be the most flamboyant or technically difficult piano
concerto to be composed between 1800 and 1900 but it is certainly one of
the better ones. My bottom line is that it works and it moves. What more
can I say? Except that it was first performed in 1869.
The Concert Allegro for Piano and Orchestra in C minor Op.29. is a
work that seems to me to be ahead of its time. I played it to a friend. Her
response was - it sounds like film music. It could have been used for 'Brief
Encounter.' And this I think is true. It was composed in 1875 - a long
time before we were told that we 'ain't seen nothin' yet' but it has all
the hallmarks of Hollywood. It is like the Bortkiewicz Concerto in Bb
- film music in all but name. I suppose parts of it remind me of the 'greatest'
work that Rachmaninov did not actually write - the Warsaw Concerto.
Parts of it are a dead ringer for that work. Yet we know that because Sergei
would not write the score for 'Dangerous Moonlight,' Richard Addinsell was
tasked to come up with the music, surrounded by the scores of Rachmaninov's
2nd & 3rd Concerti and the Paganini
Variations. So no influence from Winding!
However, for all lovers of the 'big' concerto this is piece to treasure.
Put it on the 'turntable,' lie back and enjoy. It is one of my discoveries
of 2001. It is a small fourteen-minute work I will not be able to live without.
Emil Hartmann is another composer who has suffered eclipse. This time
it is the misfortune of having a father who was a well known composer, J.P.E
Hartmann. However today both father and son are both unjustly neglected.
This overshadowing by his father was to cause him some considerable emotional
problems. The younger man was born in 1836. After study with his father he
had lessons with Anton Ree, the teacher of Winding. He was by profession
a 'church' composer, his debut being the Passionssalme of 1858. He
held down jobs at St John's Church in Copenhagen and later the Christianborg
Palace church. He was resident organist here till his death in 1898. Hartmann's
catalogue is quite extensive. In addition to much church music, he wrote
a great deal of incidental music for the theatre. Perhaps this was like later
composers such as Korngold taking to writing an abundance of film music.
A way of earning a regular income - over and above his organist's stipend.
Certainly when we look at the titles of some of his incidental music - The
Corsican or The Island in the South Sea - we do not seem to far
away from later 'celluloid' starring Errol Flynn!
But Hartmann also wrote seven symphonies, a number of symphonic poems and
chamber works. However it is the Piano Concerto Op.47 that concerns
It was written during 1889 and received its first performance in Berlin the
following year. Various influences have been mooted for this work. A contemporary
critic suggests the hand of Carl Maria von Weber. Other commentators think
of Mendelssohn or perhaps the native Gade.
The work is in three movements. There is nothing over the top about this
work. It is at times quite easygoing. However there are bursts of deeper
thoughts, especially perhaps in the cadenza at the end of the first movement.
The piano part seems to my ear to be well written; there is a definite hint
of Mendelssohn in many passages. But this is hardly surprising, as that master
had been all pervasive for a number of years in the first half of the nineteenth
century. The orchestra is used effectively, not being overbearing on the
Like the Winding Piano Concerto, the slow movement, a
Canzonetta, is perhaps the most attractive thing in this work. It
is a beautiful example of a latter day 'Song without Words.' As its
title implies, the orchestra and piano follow each other around in canonical
imitation, although the piano is almost always allowed to dominate. There
is a delicacy in the piano writing that is finely brought off by Oleg Marshev.
The last movement is full of energy. Again nothing here to bring down the
walls of Jericho - but some fine writing, some good lyrical tunes and some
quite exciting moments leading to a 'biggish' finish.
There is no doubt that this is a fine CD. What a great project this is to
resurrect some of Denmark's most delicious piano concerti. These three works
are truly lovely. Concertgoers would greet any one of them with enthusiasm,
were they given the chance to hear them.
The soloist seems totally committed to these romantic works. He does not
play around with the obviously sentimental slow movements, but plays them
with feeling and conviction. The technical mastery required for these works
may not be quite as intense as Liszt or Rachmaninov, but that is not the
point. These works are full of charm and interest. Any lesser pianist is
in grave danger of losing these qualities if he or she does not apply their
aesthetic judgement as well as their technical skills.
I would love to hear Oleg Marshev play the Emil von Sauer, which is advertised
in the sleeve notes. I think he would play this composer's works with great
commitment and understanding.
The Danish Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Matthias Aeschbacher
give of their best to this work. The recording is superb. It seems that no
detail of the romantic piano filigree is omitted; the balance between the
soloist and the orchestra is at all times perfect.
The programme notes could have had a little more information about the men
and their works - for it is hard to get hold of their details from any other
source. However, all in all this is a fine CD.
So for all enthusiasts of the Romantic Piano Concerto, this is a CD to rush
out and buy. You will not be disappointed.
I can only hope that Danacord will require someone to review their subsequent
releases in this excellent series!!