> Rarities of Piano Music at ‘ScHloss vor Husum’ from the 1990 Festival [JF]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Rarities of Piano Music at ‘ScHloss vor Husum’

from the 1990 Festival

[ 1 ] Alexander SCrIabin (1872-1915) Polonaise op. 21 8:00 Igor Shukow
[ 2 ] Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) Lento e patetico 3:21(from the Sonata op. 25 No. 5) 
[ 3 ] Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Rigoletto-Paraphrase 6:46 Claudius Tanski 
[ 4 ] Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Aux cyprès de la Villa d'Este II (1877) 7:43
[ 5 ] Schubert (1797-1828)-Godowsky (1870-1938): Morgengruß 3:41
(from "Die schöne Müllerin") Janice Weber 
[ 6 ] Chopin (1810-1849)-Godowsky (1870-1938) Study No. 34 "Mazurka" 3:44
(after op. 25 No. 5)
[ 7 ] Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953): Sarcasm op. 17 No. 1 1:57 Marc-André Hamelin 
[ 8 ] Leos Janacek (1854-1928) Sonata "l. X. 1905" 18:08 Benedikt Koehlen
[ 9 ] Henning Mankell(1868-1930) Intermezzo op. 12 No. 2 (1910) 3:39
[10] Nikolaj Medtner (1880-1951) Stimmungsbild op. 1 No. 4 2:47 Bengt Forsberg
 [11] Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) The Musical Clock 1:28 (from "Triakontameron") Geoffrey Douglas Madge 
[12] Albeniz (1860-1909) –Godowsky (1870-1938) "Triana" (1922/1938) 5:09
(from "Iberia") Abbey Simon
Recorded in Husum on August 18th –25th 1990
DANACORD DACOCD 379 [approx. 65 minutes]

Danacord

The second volume of the Husum Festival of Rare Piano Music is just as exciting and interesting as the first. We have some 65 minutes of hidden treasures and rediscoveries. That is not to say of course that all of these works are totally unknown. Enthusiasts and connoisseurs of piano music will be well aware of the existence of each and all of these pieces. However, to have the opportunity for them to be assembled on one disc is rare. Over and above the repertoire, is the quality of the playing. Here are assembled eight first class pianists. Each one of them is a specialist in his or her own field and a superb all-round performer.

The CD opens with a piece played by Igor Shukow. It is the rarely heard Polonaise in B minor Op.21 by Alexander Scriabin. This is the only work in this form by the composer, and it deserves our attention. It is not a criticism to say that it shows its antecedents fairly and squarely as belonging to Chopin. The piece was written between the second and third piano sonata in 1897. Even on a first acquaintance it is obvious that it is a difficult piece full of contrasts. It has lyrical charm, aggression and some extremely difficult octaves.

Igor Shukow was born in Gorki in 1936 but has lived in Moscow for most of his life. He is noted for his interpretations of Scriabin and certainly this present piece whets the appetite for more of this undervalued composer from Shukow.

The second work is the slow movement (Lento e Patetico) from Muzio Clementi’s Sonata Op.25 No.5 in F# minor. This work was once highly regarded by none other than Beethoven. It is somewhat earlier in period than most of the music on this CD and from the Festival in general. However it is good to hear this piece that has been excavated from Clementi’s vast catalogue. The movement is a strange hybrid. There is definitely a baroque feel to the opening bars, however, it soon slips into a much more classical idiom. Clementi was a prolific writer of piano music, however he is largely remembered for his technical exercises - Gradus ad Parnassus. Someone once said that if you can play all those pieces well you could play anything! He wrote over a hundred sonatas for piano; many of them containing intimations of Beethoven’s style. Claudius Tanski’s interpretation of this piece encourages us to want to hear more Clementi.

The second piece that Tanski played was the well-known Concert Paraphrase of the quartet from the end of the last act of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. This is of course a hugely difficult piece, encompassing a wide variety of pianistic devices. Liszt had written this piece along with a number of other transcriptions from Verdi’s operas over a period of some thirty-five years. This particular paraphrase was composed in 1859, some eight years after the first performance of the opera. Tanski is able to balance the complexity, the impressionistic figurations and the bel canto in a stunningly impressive manner. I love this piece in spite of the fact that transcriptions and arrangements are not as popular as they once were!

Claudius Tanski is noted for his interpretations of romantic piano music. He has issued CDs of music by Ferruccio Busoni, Julius Reubke and Felix Draeseke. Earlier in the recital from which the Clementi and the Liszt were recorded he had played Draeseke’s (1835-1913) Piano Sonata. It would have made another interesting piece for issue on CD.

Janice Weber also played music by Franz Liszt - the Aux Cypres de la Villa d’este II. It is part of the 3rd Year of the Années de Pélerinage. This massive work was a kind of scrapbook of ideas and thoughts that express the composer’s mind as he travelled through Europe as a virtuosi pianist. The first volume is dedicated to Switzerland; the second ‘describes’ Italy. However, the third volume tends to be less descriptive of travel and more inclined to explore Liszt’s religious pilgrimage. The composer was a regular guest at the Villa d’este which at that time was occupied by the Cardinal Prince Gustav Adolph von Hohenlohe-Schillinghurst. It has an attractive garden and a quiet beauty and great peace. This encouraged the composer to produce this somewhat reflective music. The estate was noted for its many fine cypresses. This tree is seen as a symbol of mourning, and Liszt took up this symbol and wrote two ‘threnodies’ that are addressed to the trees themselves.

There is no doubt that this, the second threnody is one of Liszt’s most attractive pieces –at times recalling memories of the famous Liebestraume. Previously Janice Weber had played the phenomenally difficult Etudes d’execution transcendente in the 1831 version that is regarded as more technically demanding than the 1851 revision.

The German pianist Benedikt Kochlen played the Sonata for Piano '1st October 1905 by Leos Janacek. His contribution to the festival had been a programme of mainly politically and historically inspired pieces, including Hans Eisler’s Piano Sonata No.1 which would have been a worthy addition to this present CD. Janacek was a Moravian composer. Today he is perhaps best known for a small number of impressive works. I need only mention Jenufa, the Sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass, The Cunning Little Vixen and the String Quartets. Of course the enthusiast will enumerate many other brilliant compositions. But the Sonata for Piano requires consideration as being a masterpiece from the early days of the twentieth century. It was written as a protest against social and national oppression. The background to the piece was a demonstration against a rally in the city of Brno that led to considerable violence. Until the end of the First World War, Moravia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. German was the language of the ruling classes and Czech that of the lower classes. On 1st October 1905 the Austrians of Brno held a demonstration opposing the establishment of a Czech Language University. The Czech’s held a counter demonstration that inevitably resulted in clashes between both factions, the police and army. A young Czech carpenter called Frantisek Pavlik was killed by a bayonet in the rioting by some Austrian troops. We are lucky to have this piece. The entire sonata was literally torn up by the composer on the day of the first performance. Fortunately the pianist, Ludmila Tuckova, had made a copy of the first two movements. Janacek later allowed this work to be published. The first movement is subtitled ‘Premonition’ and the second ‘Death’. It is a work that is basically romantic in tone; it is full of lyricism. Over and against this is darkness; it becomes something of a lament. Yet somehow there is hope as well as despair in these pages. A fine performance of this difficult work by Kocklen.

Henning Mankell is a composer who is new to me. He is Swedish - little known in his own country – never mind the rest of the world. He was born on 3rd June 1868 and died on 8th May 1930. Just by his dates he is seen to straddle various styles. He has something of romanticism, impressionism and modernism about him. His composing career began by him following in the footsteps of Chopin and Liszt. However from about 1905 he began to create a unique style of his own. Many contemporaries declared his music to be ‘futuristic and bizarre.’ He has been compared with Debussy and Scriabin, and there are some clear similarities, even in the small piece on this present CD. Yet strangely, he had actually never heard any music by the Russian composer and knew only the Arabesques of Debussy. His work is described as being somewhat uneven. He produced a massive catalogue of works – including a huge literature for the piano. I think his Piano Concerto would be well worth hearing.

The programme notes quote a critic as describing the short Intermezzo Op.12 No.2 (1910) as being something between Brahms and Frank Zappa. There is a certain quality about it that almost defies description. In some ways it is traditional, but suddenly one feels as if it has skipped into another musical world. Although it is not built on a tone row, there is a definite feel of tonal instability about the work. However it is a little taster; perhaps one day we shall have a number of CDs devoted to this distinctive composer. Bengt Forsberg, himself a Swede gives a convincing performance of this miniature.

The other piece on this CD by Forsberg is the short Stimmungsbild (Mood Pictures) Op.1 No.4 by Nicolai Medtner. This is one of eight short pieces written when the composer was only eighteen. It is an Andantino con Moto and is really quite similar to Scriabin’s earlier Preludes. This does not make any the less a fascinating ‘discovery.’

Marc André Hamelin plays the first of Prokofiev’s Sarcasms Op 17. marked as Tempestoso. It seemingly has two sides to its nature. Firstly there is an aggressive marcato, played détaché. But against this are some softer passages. Well played by the pianist.

This CD contains four pieces that have been written or arranged by that great, if somewhat out of fashion pianist/composer Leopold Godowsky.

Janice Weber ended her recital with an attractive arrangement by Godowsky of Schubert’s Morgengruß ‘Morning Greeting’ from the "Die Schöne Müllerin" song cycle. This is a somewhat technically simpler piece than most of that great pianist’s works, however, it is an extremely attractive work that brings out the melody in a subtle and beautiful manner.

Marc Andre Hamelin has come to grips with Godowsky’s Studies on the Chopin Etudes. His recording on Hyperion is the latest cycle to be made available. At present there are at least two other versions of these highly technical and supremely challenging works on the market. Those by Carlo Grante and Ian Hobson. All have received excellent reviews.

The arrangement of Chopin’s Op.25 No 5 was made by Godowsky in 1904 whilst he was residing in Berlin. This particular study of Chopin’s resulted in three works from the later composer’s pen. The second one appeared as a ‘mazurka.’ It totally transformed the original intention of Chopin. The method of Godowsky’s working is best illustrated in his own words, "Studies whose character, representation and rhythm of the original text undergo a change whilst the form as such remains as it is, although the melodical and harmonical contours often deviate considerably." Hamelin plays this study with his usual expertise.

Another short piece by Leopold Godowsky from his Triakontameron was given by Geoffrey Douglas Madge, the Australian born pianist. His contribution to the festival had included Busoni’s Ten Variations on a Theme by Chopin and Godowsky’s giant Piano sonata in E minor that is perhaps one of the most outstanding works ever written for the piano. The encore was ‘Spieluhr’ or The Musical Clock - one of the thirty moods and scenes written in triple measure. The composer wrote these miniatures when he was living in Seattle and Los Angles. They remain little known – except for one. The 11th number entitled "Alt-Wien, Whose yesterdays look backwards with a smile through tears." There is one slight mystery about Musical Clock. It is not recorded on the Konstantin Scherbakov version of the Triakontameron on Marco Polo. I can find no reference to this miniature as belonging to this work. Perhaps it is a misprint and actually should be No.23. The Musical Box?

The last piece of Godowsky and the last work on this CD is an arrangement of Triana from Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia. This is an excellent encore that deserves to be heard more. In fact it is hardly ever played. Abbey Simon had played a triumphant concert of music by Busoni, Chopin, Ravel and Rachmaninov. He chose this work that is quite difficult to bring off well. Of course he succeeds! For a description of this piece it is best to quite the words of Sorabji in his book Mi contra Fa (1947) – there is little more to be said. "Triana is a piece per se which requires highly proficient execution for a correct interpretation, and therefore Godowsky does not add many more technical difficulties. Rather he grants almost every cadence with subtle modifications of a harmonic or decorative kind, he carefully works out every detail, subjects the piece to a discrete pianistic expansion so that in the end ‘Triana’ rises again, enriched and glorified and by comparison the original sounds almost meagre and weak so that one almost tends to believe that Godowsky’s version of ‘Triana’ sounds much more like Triana than Triana itself…’

The piece proves that it is possible for composers to make transcriptions and arrangements of other composer’s music. Although this practice is currently none too fashionable, the playing of Abbey Simon proves that here we have a perfect fusion of two composers in one piece of music.

Altogether this is an excellent second volume of excerpts from the Husum Festival of Rare Piano music. It is a must for every enthusiast of the huge literature of the piano.

Not only hidden treasures, rare finds and timely revivals but superb playing. Good programme notes too.

John France


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