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")
[ 2 ] Alexander Siloti (1861-1945)
[ 3 ] Nikolaj Medtner (1880-1951)
Prelude (Hymne) 3:38
(from "Romantische Skizzen fur die Jugend" op. 54 (1933)
[ 4 ] Michael Glinka (1804-1857) Barcarolle
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
Issai Dobrowén (1894-1953)
[ 8 ] Prelude 2:43
[ 9 ] Mazurka-Caprice 1:35
(from "Sieben Klavierstucke op. 13")
 Ignace Strasfogel (1909-) Rondo
 Cyril Scott (1879-1970)
Lotus Land op. 47 No. 1 3:51
Eduard Erdmann (1896-1958)
 Fox Trot (1924) 3:11
 "Prptilpus" - Eine Fuge, op. 16 No. 5 (1915) 0:47
Recorded at Husum 17th-24th August 1991
DANACORD DACOCD 389
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
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
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
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