> Rarities of Piano Music at ‘ScHloss vor Husum’ from the 1991 Festival [JF]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Rarities of Piano Music at ‘ScHloss vor Husum’

from the 1991 Festival

[ 1 ] Franz Liszt (1811-1886)-Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam iterum venite miseri"(from Meyerbeer's "Le Prophete") 30:03 
[ 2 ] Alexander Siloti (1861-1945) Complainte 4:23
[ 3 ] Nikolaj Medtner (1880-1951) Prelude (Hymne) 3:38
(from "Romantische Skizzen fur die Jugend" op. 54 (1933)
Hamish Milne 
[ 4 ] Michael Glinka (1804-1857) Barcarolle (1847) 4:56
Alexej Ljubimov 
Nikolaj Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
[ 5 ] Novellette op. 11 No. 2 2:08
[ 6 ] Kleines Lied in Dorisch auf 'e' (1901) 1:48
[ 7 ] Romanze A flat major op. 15 No. 2 2:06
Boris Bloch 
Issai Dobrowén (1894-1953)
[ 8 ] Prelude 2:43
[ 9 ] Mazurka-Caprice 1:35
(from "Sieben Klavierstucke op. 13") 
[10] Ignace Strasfogel (1909-) Rondo (1988/89) 4:32
Kolja Lessing 
[11] Cyril Scott (1879-1970) Lotus Land op. 47 No. 1 3:51
Donna Amato 
Eduard Erdmann (1896-1958)
[12] Fox Trot (1924) 3:11
[13] "Prptilpus" - Eine Fuge, op. 16 No. 5 (1915) 0:47
Sontraud Speidel
Recorded at Husum 17th-24th August 1991
DANACORD DACOCD 389 [c.65 min]

The opening piece on this third volume of rare piano music from the Husum Festival is simply stunning. Hamish Milne plays the massive transcription by Ferruccio Busoni of the organ work by Franz Liszt – "Fantasia and fugue on the Chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’ from Meyerbeer’s ‘Le Prophete’" Now I must confess to never having heard this particular transcription of this great work – of course the organ work is an old friend, but this ‘new’ guise puts the original into the shade – at least for this listener.

Busoni worked quite freely with the original score. He cut a few bars, added in a few more and made a technically difficult work even more so. Liszt is never one for avoiding involved figurations and pianistic (or organistic) devices. However, Busoni seems to reinvent the words.

Liszt wrote the original organ work in 1850 – at least that is its publishing date. It was of course composed for the concert organ, however it was often played on that largely forgotten invention – the pedal grand piano. (I remember my piano teacher in Glasgow had one although I think it was a ‘Heath Robinson affair)

Busoni made his transcription forty years later – in 1890. It is a huge work. Massive in construction and effect. It is longer than Liszt’s B minor piano sonata and in fact is almost symphonic in its scale. There is a fantasia followed by an adagio, then the fugue and finally an ‘epilogue.’

There is no doubt that this is a masterpiece – not only is it one of the finest of pieces of music written by Liszt - it has claims to be the best piece of 19th century organ music – it is also a masterwork by Ferruccio Busoni. And let us not forget poor old Meyerbeer who gave the original theme!

It shows once and for all how it is so wrong to ignore transcriptions. To judge them an unwholesome thing of the past. This is simply stunning music played in a remarkable style by Milne.

As a listening strategy – forget Meyerbeer and even forget the organ. Just imagine it as a ‘new sonata’ by Liszt edited by Busoni. Just sit back and enjoy.

The ‘Complainte' of Alexander Siloti is a very lovely piece of music; the sort of work that makes one wish he had written so much more. A few words about this pianist/composer will not be amiss as I think he is quite unknown to the majority of listeners. He was born in Kharkov in 1863 and at the age of thirteen he began to study with Nicolai Rubenstein and Tchaikovsky in Moscow; he finished his education at Weimar with Franz Liszt. Like many musicians he combined recital work with teaching at the Moscow Conservatory and of course composing. He travelled extensively in Europe and the United States. During the Russian Revolution he found it desirable to leave and escaped to England. In 1922 he emigrated to New York. Siloti resumed his academic life at the Julliard School in that city. He was not so much a composer as an arranger and has left a number of transcriptions of concertos by Bach and Vivaldi as well as many others. The ‘Complainte’ is actually a meditation on two themes from Tchaikowsky’s incidental music to the Snegourotschka or Snowflake. However, he has created something that is very special and exceptionally well crafted. Hamish Milne brings pure magic to its interpretation.

Milne continues with Nicolai Medtner’s Prelude (Hymn) from his Op.54 – Romantic Sketches for the Young (1933). This is yet another piece of music that seems to have lain hidden from view. Not only this music but Medtner himself. I accept that he has a following both here and in the United States. Yet his name is virtually unknown to most listeners. Considering the style of his music, and the popularity of composers like Rachmaninov one would have imagined that the musical public would have loved this well written and openly romantic music. Yet most of his work lies largely unheard and unplayed. The good news is that Hamish Milne is a Medtner specialist and he is in the process of recording the complete piano works. Furthermore Geoffrey Tozer is also exploring this massive field on Chandos. So perhaps the time has come when this lovely, exciting and passionate music will become well known and appreciated. Meanwhile this Prelude is a beautiful miniature, which, although recognising the limitations of young hands managed to exude an air of perfect pianism. It almost seems superfluous to say that it is played to perfection by Milne.

Michael Glinka is another composer whose reputation seems to have suffered somewhat over the last 150 years. Yet he is universally recognised as being the Father of Russian music. There are operas and tone poems, chamber music and many songs in this composer’s catalogue. There is also much piano music. A lot of it seems to be in the style of John Field and Chopin. And this Barcarolle is no exception. It is a lovely, almost timeless piece of writing that seems to defy classification. However, the influence of his Irish teacher does no seem to be too far away. It was composed in 1847. Alexi Liubimov plays this work with understanding. There is a definite nocturnal feel to this music. A lovely encore.

Rimsky Korsakov is more often associated with his operatic and orchestral works than with music for the piano. Yet he did write a number of effective works for this instrument. They are, perhaps derivative of Schumann and Tchaikovsky, but that does not detract from their sense of being well-crafted. The Novelette Op.11 No.2 is reminiscent of Schumann’s ‘Florestan.’ However the real gem is the Romance in Ab major Opus 15 No.2. It has an attractive melody set against a chromatic accompaniment. The "Kleine lied in dorisch auf ‘e’" has a certain transparent quality about it that is perhaps unusual for Rimsky Korsakov. All three are little gems – not great music, but music that does not deserve to be lost for all time. It is well worth the occasional airing. And that is what Husum is all about. Boris Bloch plays these pieces to great effect.

I must confess that until listening to this CD I knew nothing about the Russian composer Issay Dobrowen. I admit that I had heard the name, yet his achievement or his music was a closed book to me. Assuming, perhaps wrongly, that his name is not so well known I will give a few brief notes on his life and works.

Issai Dobrowen was born in Nizhnv-Novgorod in 1894. So by his dates he is well and truly a twentieth century composer. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory and had Taniev as one of his lecturers. However he continued his studies with the great Leopold Godowsky in Vienna. He was a professor at the Moscow Philharmonia Conservatory between 1917 and 1921. He became director of the Great Theatre in Moscow and in this role as opera director had a number of triumphs in Europe and America. As a composer he wrote a fair number of works including an opera based on A Thousand & One Nights. There are Concerti for Piano (op.20) and for Violin. A large amount of his small output was dedicated to the piano. It includes two sonatas, a set of studies and numerous miniatures. Dobrowen died in Oslo in 1953.

The present two pieces are from his Op.13 –Seven Piano Pieces written in the early 1920’s. I think it is fair to say that the main influence appears to be Scriabin in both the Prelude and the Mazurka Caprice. However, it stands the test of time well and like so much of the music in this festival makes one want more. I glanced at one of the CD Shops on the Web and there was virtually nothing in the catalogue for this composer. If these two excellent pieces were anything to go on, I would certainly like to hear the Piano Concerto. Kolja Lessing plays these two small pieces with great sensitivity.

The other work extracted from Lessing’s recital is the Rondo (1988/89) written by Ignace Strasfogel – once again a composer of whom I know nothing. He was born in 1909 and studied with that undervalued operatic composer Franz Schreker – whose works are gradually being rediscovered. The Rondo is a somewhat more neo-classical work – the programme notes describe it as a novelty that is influenced by the music of Hans Eisler and Paul Hindemith. Yet somehow there is a side to this music that ties it into the generally romantic and late romantic content of most of this CD. Imaginatively played by Kolja Lessing, it deserves to be on the lists of recital pieces.

Cyril Scott is a composer who has had a mixed reception over the years. He is part of the so-called Frankfurt Group of composers who include Norman O’Neill, Percy Grainger and Roger Quilter. A glance at his catalogue shows a remarkable number of works. Most listeners who know of Scott will be aware of one or two of his piano pieces. Many amateur pianists have no doubt worked their way through the charming Water Wagtail. However there are two piano concerti, two symphonies, a number of tone poems and orchestral pieces, and three operas. His music is hard to pin down, encompassing a number of styles and sound schemes.

Lotus Land was written in 1905 at a time when ‘things oriental’ were all the rage. Of course Scott never actually made it to the East. However he was able to capture something of this spirit in his music. He has regularly been accused of being derivative – impressionistic, Scriabin, Art Noveau in music. Many critics have panned Lotus Land as having similarities to Debussy’s ‘Pour l’Egyptienne’ from the Six epigraphs antique. I grant that there are a number of references – in fact the whole tonal and stylistic world seems to be the same. But as for plagiarism – Scott wrote Lotus Land in 1905 and the Epigraphs were not completed until 1915.

Perhaps one of the problems with Cyril Scott is the fact that he dabbled in non-musical interests, such as the occult and somehow this lack of single minded-ness does not seem to have been beneficial to his reception as a composer. Further, like many composers, he is often judged on his many ‘light’ or ‘salon’ pieces rather than on his masterpieces. I recommend that the listener beg, steal or borrow one of the old Lyrita recording of the Piano Concerti and listen to this and then judge whether Scott is a negligible figure or not.

I feel that the time is right for a reappraisal of this undervalued composer. Lotus Land is a little tiny taster –albeit a miniature masterpiece- of what lies in store should the record companies decide to excavate this particular seam of British Music.

Donna Amato, the American pianist played this work as an encore to her well-received concert. She is able to generate the emotional response to this very impressionistic piece. Great stuff.

The CD finishes off with two lighter hearted pieces by the German pianist and composer Eduard Erdman. He has a number of works to his credit including two symphonies, a piano concerto and numerous piano works. His Foxtrot (1923), so well played by Sontraud Speidel, is in the vein of music lighter music by Poulenc, Milhaud and Stravinsky himself. Just one of those pieces that is fun to listen to and, I imagine fun to play as well. The last piece is a small ‘academic’ fugue (1915) that was dedicated to his tomcat, Prptilpus (sic). It has ‘Grainger-like’ playing directions such as ‘creeping, wild, crashing and hammering.’ One has to listen for the poor old cat knocking over the vase at the end of the work. Two great little numbers to conclude this excellent recital.

John France


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