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RARITIES OF PIANO MUSIC AT "SCHLOSS VOR HUSUM"
From the 2001 Festival
Ernö von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)

Rhapsody op. 11/4
Alfredo Perl (pianoforte)
Laura NETZEL (1839-1927)

Etude: La Fileuse, op. 52/1
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)

3 Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District, Sz. 35a (1907)
Fredrik Ullén (pianoforte)
Marko TAJKEVIC (1900-1985)

7 Balkan Dances (1927)
Boris PAPANDOPULO (1906-1991)

Etude no. 3 (1956)
Kemal Gekic (pianoforte)
Paul HINDEMITH (1897-1963)

Sonata no. 3 (1936)
Enrico Pace (pianoforte)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) after Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Aida-Fantasy (1871)
Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)

Souvenirs d’Andalousie (1852)
Giovanni Bellucci (pianoforte)

Cor de GROOT (1914-1993)

Homenages (1985): nos. 2, 5
Antonio JOBIM (1927-1994) arr. Frédéric Meinders

Garota de Ipanema
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1947)

Charakterstück, op. 7/1 (1827)
Frédéric Meinders (pianoforte)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) arr. Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)

Morgengruss
Frederic RZEWSKI (b. 1938)

4 North American Ballads (1979): no. 4. Down by the Riverside
Konstantin Scherbakov (pianoforte)

Recorded live at the 2001 Schloss vor Husum Festival
DANACORD DACOCD 589 [78’ 17"]

Husum Castle has since 1987 hosted a festival like none other, entirely dedicated to the piano and to little-known repertoire. And every year Danacord brings out a CD containing selections from the Festival’s recitals. Previous issues have been enthusiastically reviewed for the site by my colleagues. If I strike a slightly cautious note, I have the idea, looking at the programmes of the earlier discs, that 2001 may have been a relatively lean year, though it does conclude with one "typical" contribution.

These days a Dohnányi Rhapsody is only middling rare, but this is a sombrely impressive piece which makes much use of the "Dies Irae" motive. Perl produces the right sound, full and rounded, and sees that the right melodic strands come through.

Failure to do this renders naught Fredrik Ullén’s performance of "La Fileuse" by the Finnish composer Laura Netzel. The piece itself has little value, but if the right hand was made to sound like fantastic filigree, as Ignaz Friedman might have done it, and the left-hand melody sung out, it would make its point. Unfortunately Ullén appears unable to differentiate between the hands. The figuration is accurate enough but it is heavy and the melody hardly comes through. He deals sympathetically with the early Bartók pieces.

The Croat pianist Kemal Gekic has works by two of his native countrymen. Tajcevic’s Balkan Dances are neatly turned miniatures after the Bartók model; Papandopulo’s Study is the sort of run-of-the-mill bit of modernism that could have been produced anywhere in the same year (1956).

Hindemith’s Third Sonata is not exactly unfamiliar, having been a standard choice for "the modern piece" in conservatoire programmes for about fifty years. Not that this means it shouldn’t be played in concert too, and Enrico Pace gives its swifter movements plenty of committed vitality. That he fails to make the slower movements sound more than gruffly dogged is a problem that practically everyone who has played Hindemith’s piano works has had to face. And yet, if the performer cannot reveal genuine beauty in the writing, then neither can he hold off our sniggering acquiescence in Constant Lambert’s outrageous jibe (about another Hindemith work): "Its combination of natural aridity with deliberate virtuosity is indeed most displeasing. Exhibitionism is only to be tolerated in the physically attractive" (Music Ho! Faber 1931, p. 191).

Another Italian pianist, Giovanni Bellucci, gives a very sensitive, non-exhibitionist, performance of Liszt’s sombre "Aida-Fantasy", limpid of tone in the gentler moments, warm and rounded in the heavier ones. This piece was written in 1871 when the opera was brand new; it had its first production in Cairo that same year and was not performed in Europe till 1872 (at La Scala). It is extraordinary how utterly un-Verdian Liszt makes it all sound. Though I admire many of his operatic fantasies and paraphrases, in this case I wish he had been a little less quick off the mark. With more time to think he might have realised how Verdi’s increased stature and mastery announced in this opera demanded treatment to match it. As it is, the more notes he adds the more reductive he becomes, scaling Verdi’s Nile down to the size of an ornate goldfish tank.

Gottschalk’s breezy, colourful piece gets a breezy, colourful performance.

Cor de Groot is a vaguely recollected name from my earliest record-collecting days when some of his mono LPs (for example the first two Beethoven concertos with the Vienna Symphony under Otterloo) were on a cheap Philips label. The two brief pieces here are in a pleasing, slightly jazzy mode, but something more substantial will have to be found if a case is to be made for de Groot as a composer. The Dutch pianist Frédéric Meinders then presents his own working of a song by the Brazilian composer Antonio Carols Jobim; beautifully written, moving from an atmospheric opening to a livelier conclusion.

About the Mendelssohn I am in two minds. Meinders is a poet to his fingertips and he teases and assuages the ear to haunting effect. On the other hand his treatment of dynamics, his soloing out of single lines in a contrapuntal texture, his rhythmic separation of the hands and his continual insertion of commas and rallentandos is very far from what Mendelssohn actually wrote. The trouble is, as I have just demonstrated for myself, if you play the piece simply and flowingly, as I imagine was intended, it doesn’t actually sound very interesting, whereas by the time Meinders has finished with it, it does.

Konstantin Scherbakov is maybe the one pianist here who comes up with a "classic" Husum Castle event; Godowsky’s outrageous tarting up of Schubert’s "Morgengruss" played with calm artistry and a Ballad by the American Rzewski which combines bigness of utterance with melodic simplicity and contrapuntal complexity.

As I said at the beginning, overall this is not one of the more mouth-watering programmes in the series; if you haven’t got any of these Husum CDs, I suggest you study the contents of them all before choosing. If you are collecting these discs, then rest assured that items of interest are certainly present on the latest, mostly well-recorded, occasional patches of distortion resulting presumably from a very close microphone balance intended, I suppose, to minimise audience noise. In fact, the odd cough seems to be coming from some very distant vault, reminding us that ancient castles should be well-equipped to deal with recidivist concert-coughers.

Christopher Howell


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