> Schloss vor Husum 1992 [JF]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Rarities of Piano Music at ‘Schloss vor Husum’ from the 1992 Festival

Serge Babayan
[ 1 ] Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847): Lied ohne Worte op. 102 No. 4 (1868 poth.) 2:13
[ 2 ] Schubert (1797-1828)-Liszt (1811-1886): Der Müller und der Bach 5:19
[ 3 ] Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924): No. 5 (after Mozart)
(from "Fünf kurze Stücke zur Pflege des polyphonen Spiels")
(1923) 4:15

Igor Shukov
[ 4 ] Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Meditation op. 72 No. 5 (1893) 6:23
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915):
[ 5] Prélude op. 67 No. 2 (1913) 0:50
[ 6 ] Prélude op. 17 No. 6 ( ?) 1:20
[ 7 ] Poème op. 59 No. 1 (c.1908) 2:00
[ 8 ] Prelude op. 59 No. 2(c.1908) 2:12

Peter-Jürgen Hofer 
[ 9 ] Manfred Kelkel (1929-): Tombeau de Scriabine op. 22 (1972) 13:55
Prélude (basé sur des fragments des esquisses de Scriabine)

Bernard Ringeissen
 [10] Francis Poulenc (1899-1963): Pastorale (from "Trois Pièces", 1928) 2:41
[11] Claude Debussy (1862-1918): Etude pour les "cinq doigts" d'après M. Czerny (1915) 3:12

Marie-Cathérine Girod 
Arthur Lourié (1892-1966):
[12] Valse (1926) 4:01
[13] Gigue (1927) 3:24
 [14] Enrique Granados (1867-1916): Mazurka (from "Escenas romanticas")(1930 poth.) 3:04
Marc-Andre Hamelin
 [15] Percy Grainger (1882-1961): Colonial Song (1913) 5:36
[16] Marc-André Hamelin (1961-): Triple Etude (after Chopin) 2:04
(op. 10/2 & op. 25/4 & op. 25/11)
[17] Vladimir Deshevov (1899-1955) : Gleise (Tracks) op. 16 (1926) 0:52
Kolja Lessing
 [18] Felix Petyrek (1892-1951): Wurstelprater (1919) (from "Sechs groteske Klavierstücke") 2:16
[19] Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996): From the Ballet (1957) 2:58

Daniel Berman
 [20] Bach (1685-1750)-Tausig (1841-1871): O Mensch, bewein' dein Sünde groß 4:11
[21] Rozycki (1883-1953)-Ginzburg (1904-1962): "Casanova"- Fantasy 4:09
Recorded live at Husum 1992


In many ways Mendelssohn seems to be in the doldrums. Immensely popular in the nineteenth century his star has faded. Of course everyone knows and loves a few famous pieces - Spring Song, Fingal’s Cave and perhaps an aria or two from Elijah. Organ enthusiasts still dish up movements from the fine sonatas for that instrument. Choirs will still sing 'Oh for the Wings of a Dove.' However, the vast part of the catalogue is an unknown quantity to most music listeners. And this is a pity, for not only was Mendelssohn hugely influential in other composers (we need only think perhaps of Sterndale Bennett in England) but much of his music is exceptionally well crafted. Full of good tunes, interesting rhythms and well-wrought, if occasionally sentimental, harmonies. His vocal writing style as exemplified in Elijah has influenced a whole school of British oratorio composers.

Most pianists, both amateur and professional, will have worked their way through the famous Songs without Words. Now I believe that these pieces are not played as often as they deserve to be at recitals. There are many gems in this collection that could well survive more than an occasional airing. The Op.102 No.4 is a case in point. This number is from the eighth and last book of the 48 'Lied'. It was published posthumously in 1868. This is an extremely well balanced sort of piece - with just the right amount of intensity of dynamic. Wistful, yes but also questioning. It is more than just a character piece and is well played by the Armenian pianist Serge Babayan.

The second piece played by this pianist is the truly beautiful transcription of Schubert's 'The Miller and the Brook’ by Franz Liszt. I really wonder why this is not in the repertoire of all recitalists. It makes a perfect if slightly long encore. Not a firework - just a wonderful fusion of the older composer's vocal line with the perfection of the Hungarian's delicious pianism. In many ways it I like discovering another Consolation or even perhaps another Liebsträume. Yet this very comparison begs the comment that as music listeners we know so little of Liszt's music. There are perhaps a dozen or so pieces in the repertoire - you can name them yourself - that are constantly recorded by CD companies and played on Classic FM. The more is the pity. Thank goodness for Leslie Howard’s cycle on Hyperion.

The final extract from Babayan's recital is a little gem - again totally unknown but to a few specialists of piano music. It is the fifth number of "Fünf kurze Stücke zur Pflege des polyphonen Spiels" (Five Short Pieces on the Cultivation of Polyphonic Music) by Ferrucio Busoni.

The work is believed to have been composed in the early 1920s - its first performance being in 1923, the year before the composer's death. It is based on the song from the finale of the second act of The Magic Flute by Mozart – ‘Two Men in Armour.’ It is an interesting transcription, which for much of its course remains true to the original. There are some complex technical and polyphonal problems to overcome in this music. For example, the differentiation of the original strands of the operatic drama. The last section is a riot of trills and appoggiaturas. It all sounds very difficult.

Igor Shukov, the Russian pianist plays a forgotten work by Tchaikovsky and four pieces by Scriabin. Of course Shukov has something of a reputation for the interpretation of Scriabin's music.

The Meditation from Tchaikowsky's Eighteen Piano Pieces op.72 composed in 1893 is a piece that for some reason has been overlooked by recitalist and listeners alike. There is nothing seriously profound about this music - yet it has all the hallmarks of a work that would be popular in any recital of romantic music - big tune, interesting figurations and a definite sense direction - all well played by Shukov.

We are on more serious ground when Shukov turns his attention to Scriabin. According to the programme notes, he had played a catena of pieces by this undervalued composer - a kind of journey through the various periods and styles of his compositional career.

We have the short Prelude No 2 from the Op.87 - a piece which seems remarkable unstable in its tonality and quite adventurous in its harmonic style. The earlier Prelude No.6 from Op.17 is a little more in the romantic style - yet even here there is a feel of musical exploration. The Poème Op.59 No.1 is extremely beautiful. It is, once again, quite a late work in the Scriabin catalogue - and once again shifting sands as far as the tonal structure of the piece is concerned. Yet it a perfectly magical piece - perhaps a little hard edged in places.

The last piece of Scriabin is the second Prelude from the Op.59. This is a world of its own - quite aggressive and quite disturbing, even sinister in places. Yet it is a fine work - full of energy and passion and even angst. There is no doubt that Shukov is a Scriabin specialist. One is left wishing to understand more of Scriabin's development as a composer - and perhaps the concept of a chronological journey through his compositions is a good one. There is always a grave danger of listening to only a few favourites.

For the Tombeau de Scriabine op 22 by Manfred Kelkel I have to rely very heavily on the programme notes. I have heard neither of the composer nor the work before. This is quite a late piece having been commissioned by Radio France in 1972 to celebrate the centenary of Scriabin’s birth.

It is not an easy piece of music – the very nature of the work makes it seem quite fragmented. It was based on ‘symphonic transmutations of fragments (motifs and chords) of the musical sketches from Scriabin’s last unfinished work "The Preparatory Ritual." Kelkel has divided his ‘Hommage' into two parts – the Praeludium and the Transmutations. There is no obvious break between movements. The sleeve notes explain that it is no longer possible to differentiate the themes and strands of Scriabin’s original work. I presume most listeners, like myself, have not heard this last unfinished work by the master and will be unable to do the detective work either.

The German pianist Peter-Jürgen Hofer gives this work a committed performance. It sounds, to my ear, as if it is exceedingly complex and involved. Yet something of the ‘romantic’ and the ‘spiritual’ that fills Scriabin’s music is definitely preserved.

Although I do not claim to understand all that is going on in this piece, I like it very much. It is challenging – but actually quite engaging. It is a piece of music that needs to be listened to a number of times. And unfortunately that is highly unlikely to be the case – at least in live performances. It is good we have it preserved here for all time.

Francis Poulenc is probably the best known of ‘Les Six’ – this is not to deny the fine music of ‘les autres cinq’ but to recognise a certain durability. Nearly all of his music is accessible to a wide range of listeners, is well-crafted and imbued with wit. The Pastorale is from Trois Pièces that were published in 1928, however this piece was composed in 1917. The programme notes suggest it ‘comes from the spirit of Scriabin,’ although the French composer breaks through about halfway. It is well played by the French pianist Bernard Ringeissen.

This recitalist continues with Debussy’s ‘Etude pour les cinq doigts (d’après Monsieur Czerny). This is basically a pastiche of the ‘five finger exercise’ made famous by the elder composer. However Debussy manages to transform this into a gigue. It actually sounds much harder than the average ‘preparatory’ exercise set for aspiring pianists! It is one of twelve studies composed in 1917 right at the end of his life. As a whole these studies consider virtually every aspect of the pianist's technique. Debussy himself wrote about this collection, "…apart from the question of technique, these ‘Etudes’ will be a useful warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands." Hardly encouraging to we amateur pianists – but explains why Ringeissen copes with the etude rather well.

The French pianist Marie-Cathérine Girod played works by the Russian composer Arthur Lourié and the Enrique Granados.

I must confess that Arthur Lourié is a new name to me. We hear on this disc two works – the Valse and the Gigue. These were taken from the ‘Quatre Pièces’ which were composed in the mid-nineteen-twenties. Lourié occupies a strange place in the history of Russian music. In many ways his roots are in Scriabin. He was later influenced somewhat by Stravinsky; he was impressed with subsequent developments in atonality. In 1918 he was appointed as the ‘people's commissar for music.’ However the position did not suit him and he left for France. In 1941 he finally moved to the United States where he became an American citizen. Lourié has a large catalogue of works that includes two symphonies and a lot of chamber music.

The two pieces played by Marie-Cathérine Girod are possibly not typical of his style – I am really not sure. However, the Valse has a ‘Parisian’ or Poulenc-ian feel to it, and the Gigue has, according to the sleeve notes, prefigurement of ‘rock rhythms.’

It is to the pianist’s credit that she has unearthed this interesting if not great music.

The Granados is an attractive lightweight piece from his vast catalogue of ‘salon’ pieces. It is a ‘mazurka’ from the ‘Escenas romanticas’ that were posthumously published in 1930. This work is definitely not in the same Spanish style as much of Granados's music. The mazurka has been likened to Chopin, and this influence is certainly obvious here.

Percy Grainger is one of those composers that defy classification. He was a total maverick. That, of course, is not to deny that his music is extremely attractive and has considerable worth. Yet some of his prejudices against the German musical tradition have caused him to be sidelined from the general run of musical repertoire.

He was much influenced by folksong – especially from the United Kingdom, America and Scandinavia. One of Grainger’s characteristics was to make a number of arrangements of his more popular works. Someone once said that Country Gardens had been arranged for everything from ‘Full Orchestra to Jew's Harp via Six Brass Bands and sitar.’ Certainly the version of the Colonial Song that I have known for thirty years is for vocal duet and orchestra. I have always liked its sentimental nature. However this piano version so well played by Marc-André Hamelin is a minor revelation. Extremely attractive it achieves its aim of intensifying the rich colours of this well-known American inspired work.

Hamelin continued his offering on this CD with one of his own confections – the Triple Study (after Chopin). This is based, as the title implies on three of the romantic master’s studies – Op.10/2, Op.25/4 and Op.25/11. Of course one is immediately reminded of Leopold Godowsky’s great essay on the Etudes when one see this derivative title.

What Hamelin has done is, to quote his own words – "crazy." He has gone a step further than Godowsky and has combined these three Etudes into one. It is quite definitely an encore piece – resembling the art of the juggler or acrobat rather than concert pianist! Rather fun really and of course superbly played!

His last piece on this disc is by the Russian composer – Vladimir Deshevov. I know virtually nothing of this individual – however he studied with Liadov and was friends with Sergei Prokofiev. And perhaps it is this relationship that is most obvious in this short piece lasting no more than 52 seconds. The Scherzo Op.12 No.10 is almost a piece of musique concrète – complete with factory-like rhythms. However this snippet excites one's curiosity – perhaps this is a composer worth excavating?

The CD continues with two more miniatures played by Kolja Lessing – the Wurstelprater by Felix Petyrek and the unique ‘From the Ballet’ by Berthold Goldschmidt.

Of course the Wurstelprater is named after the well-known amusement park in Vienna. In fact the music is ‘Viennese'. Perhaps he belongs to the third school of that musical city. What he has done is to take phrases written by the ‘waltz king’ and subject them to distortion. Yes, it is a waltz, but a waltz that has been so transformed by compositional process that it becomes almost a reminiscence; a kind of looking back through welder's goggles rather than rose-coloured spectacles.

The short work entitled ‘From the Ballet’ has all the hallmarks of being a kind of 1930s children’s piece from a piano tutor or an album of sketches. However it is greater than this. Berthold Goldschmidt is an English composer of German birth. He left Germany due to persecution under the Nazi regime. The piano piece presented here is enigmatic. Rather innocuous to begin with – an almost Korngold ‘Märchenbilder’ feel to it – it soon develops into something quite weird. It is perhaps more sinister than the opening bars suggest. However something of the lost innocence returns. An interesting piece, and one that might encourage people to explore this composer's work further.

The last two pieces on this excellent CD are two transcriptions – one of an organ prelude by J.S Bach and the other of a waltz from the opera ‘Casanova’ by Ludomir Rozycki. Daniel Berman, the pianist is a connoisseur of this kind of composition. So long derided by the musical establishment – it is nice to see that finally it is becoming acceptable to programme transcriptions, paraphrases and arrangements into recitals.

The choral ‘O Mensch bewein’ dein Sünde groß’ was transcribed by the Polish pianist and composer Carl Tausig. Tausig is little remembered these days, except for his piano arrangements. However it is interesting to note that he wrote symphonic poems and a piano concerto as well as a sizeable amount of other original music. Berman interprets this music perfectly. We are presented with a very attractive version of this chorale prelude. I accept that the purist may baulk at this piece – however we must always remember that part of the revival of Bach was mediated through piano versions of his works – by Tausig and Busoni.

Casanova was an opera produced by the long forgotten composer Ludomir Rozycki. His work was primarily operatic, although there are a number of chamber works. His style lies somewhere between Strauss and Humperdinck. Although his dates are quite recent – he died in 1953 – he never adopted any of the modern idioms of composition. The Russian pianist, Grigorj Ginzburg took the waltz from Casonova and turned into a fine paraphrase. It is played to perfection by Daniel Berman.

This is another extremely desirable disc from Danacord’s snapshot of the Husum Festival. It is full of rare treats – a virtual feast for connoisseur's of piano music. There is something for everyone here. The playing is uniformly excellent and the programme notes are superb. The trouble is that one cannot just buy one of these discs – it whets the appetite for the entire series – 1989 – 2000!

John France

You will find reviews of other Husum years in the February reviews

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