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Rarities of Piano Music at ‘Schloss vor Husum’ - Volume 14, 2002
Nikolai Medtner (1879-1951)

Fairy Tales Op. 20 Nos. 1 and 2
Steven Osborne (piano)
Nikolai Medtner (1879-1951)

Sonata-Ballade in F# minor Op. 27
Konstantin Lifschitz (piano)
Mikolajus CIurlionis (1875-1911)

Three Preludes Op. 20
Jean Dubé (piano)
William Baines (1899-1921)

Tides – The Lone Wreck and Goodnight to Flamboro
Nicolas Walker (piano)
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

Mazurka Op. 62 No. 2
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Prelude in A minor (1913)
Max Reger (1873-1916)

Marsch der Stiftsdamen
Kolja Lessing (piano)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

March, Gavotte and Caprice from 10 Pieces Op. 12
Enrico Pace (piano)
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

O Polichinello
Alexander Skryabin (1872-1915)

Etude in C# minor Op. 2 No. 1
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ (Samson and Dalila)
Fats Waller /Meinders

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Frédéric Meinders

Frédéric Meinders (piano)
Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948)

Five Waltzes (piano 4-hands)
Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethhuysen (pianos)
Recorded live at Husum, August 2002 DDD


This is an album to savour slowly. Do not be tempted to put it onto the ‘turntable’ and do something else. The very nature of these interesting and excellent recordings from Danacord preclude any kind of half-hearted listening strategy. We must give this music our undivided attention: playing the album one track after another will so bemuse our senses that we shall eventually switch off and be left the poorer for that lack of attention.

Once again the organisers of Husum have presented a fine selection of unknown works by famous composers, little known works by forgotten masters and transcriptions. Yes – it is no longer an offence to claim to enjoy transcriptions!

Let’s start with my personal ‘big discovery’ on this disk. Most of us know something or other by Heitor Villa Lobos – most likely one of his famous Bachianas Brasileiras. Recently Naxos has issued three volumes of piano music which have opened new doors into our perception of this great composer.

However, the work presented here is very short – lasting less than a minute and half. It is from the suite of pieces called ‘A Prolo do Bebe’ – the Babies Family which was composed in 1918. This is an amazing piece – sounding completely impossible to play and seemingly full of technical impossibilities. However Marc-André Hamelin copes remarkably well. This is a moment of sheer pleasure that would make a show-stopping encore piece at any recital.

Hamelin also contributes the famous Etude in C# minor by Scriabin. This was one of Vladimir Horowitz’s favourite encores. Here it is given a serious and moving performance; however, it is perhaps not fair to compare with the ‘maestro’ as this is the version that is probably etched into most piano music lover’s minds.

One of the joys of this CD are the three pieces by Frederic Meinders – two arrangements and one original work. Meinders makes a habit of transcribing, and as the sleeve-notes state, is ‘not afraid to venture into the popular ‘cocktail’ repertoire at times.’

Here we are given the ‘Softly awakes my heart,’ by Saint-Saëns. It is one of those pieces that seems to start of reasonably easily – and becomes just more and more complex and involved. I am not an opera fan and must admit I like my arias in this pianistic form!

Fats Waller was a great pianist too – he was taught by his mother and the local church organist. One of his biggest hits was ‘Ain’ Misbehavin’. Meinders takes this tune and works it through a number of variations. I am not sure how successful this is formally but I like it - it complements the original tune admirably.

The last of Meinders pieces is a little number of his own – ‘Choro’. This is a study – full of difficulty and sounding a bit like Bach every now and again.

Ignaz Friedman is one of the great pianists who belong to the pre-war generation. He is well represented by recordings and piano rolls. The first time I heard his playing was on one of the Nimbus Grand Piano series. However he is perhaps less well remembered for his original compositions and transcriptions. Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethhuysen remedy this deficiency with Five Waltzes for four hands. All very short – the longest is just over two minutes and the briefest a mere 41 seconds - these pieces are full of vitality, charm and fun. Well played and totally enjoyable.

Enrico Pace is not really given much space to shine on this CD. He plays three numbers from Sergei Prokofiev’s Ten Pieces Op.12. However they are played to perfection and made me think again about a work that I have never really related to. I especially like the Gavotte.

I am on much more secure ground with the two pieces by William Baines – The Lone Wreck and Goodnight to Flamboro. These were published as ‘Tides.’ It is well known that the young Baines used to spend much time on the East Yorkshire coast. He had relatives at Bridlington and enjoyed exploring Flamborough Head – a great promontory into the North Sea, or as it was in those days the German Ocean.

This is impressionistic music of the best kind. Although descriptive in some ways of the play of the tides on the rocky coast it is much more about feelings of sadness and regret and, to certain extent, loneliness. These pieces are some of the finest miniatures in the British piano repertory and deserve to be before the public. I enjoyed these works and tried to avoid comparing them too much to Erik Parkin. Both Nicolas Walker and Parkin manage to create that necessary air of mystery and depth. The programme notes wrongly describe Flamborough as a seaside resort; it is a lonely place that happens to be near Bridlington which is a fine family seaside resort beloved by generations of holidaymakers.

Kolja Lessing is given space for three short pieces by Szymanowski, Ravel and Reger. The Ravel ‘Prelude in A minor’ is a ‘midget gem’ – perfect in every detail. This is about the only piece of Ravel I can play – however Lessing plays it considerably better than I do! The shortest piece on this CD is the deceptively grand march by Reger - Marsch der Stiftsdamen – it lasts a bare 38 seconds – and is rather fun!

The Mazurka by Szymanowski is in fact his final composition. It is quite a dark and austere work only occasionally giving a flicker of warmth. Yet it has a strange attractiveness about it that haunts the imagination long after the last notes have died away. It is accorded inspired playing by Lessing.

I must confess to not having heard of Jean Dubé’s choice of composer - Mikolajus Ciurlionis. The programme notes tell us that the composer was also an accomplished artist. He was born in Lithuania in 1875 and was soon seen to be a bit of a child prodigy; he began piano lessons at four years old and studied the organ at seven!

His music is somewhat eclectic – seeming to combine a variety of styles including folksong, Medtner and Scriabin. But this is not a criticism. These Three Preludes, based on a single theme, are excellent examples of the genre and are played beautifully by Jean Dubé. I must try to find out a bit more about this composer and his works.

The opening works on the disc are two of Nicolai Medtner’s ‘magical’ Fairy Tales Op.20. I know that the concept of ‘fairy tale’ as used by the composer does not really include ‘peris’ or even magic – however these two works exhibit such a fine balance of construction, poise, technique and interest that they certainly are ‘magical’ to the listener. The Scottish pianist Steven Osborne plays them with a wizard’s skill.

All Husum discs have one large scale work. Here it is the Sonata-Ballade in F# minor Op.27 by Nicolai Medtner. This is a fine work that calls for all the imagination and skill that the pianist can bring to it. It won the composer his second Glinka award and certainly seems to have deserved this accolade. This is a considerable piece lasting nearly half an hour. It is divided into three contrasting but unequal movements. However, as a sonata it is effective. I rather like Konstantin Lifschitz’s presentation of this work – to my ear he is well able to bring out the diversity; each movement requires a different narration technique. The first is lyrical, the second gloomy and the last is a fugue. Obviously a comparison can be made with the Chandos version by Geoffrey Tozer or Hamish Milne on CRD, however I find this version totally convincing.

This disc is the first of the series to be engineered in such a way as to give ‘more depth and resonance’ to the sound. It certainly sounds extremely impressive and shows off these virtuosic works to their best advantage. The engineers have chosen to leave a few examples of applause in this disc. This is a good idea, especially for such a showstopper as the Villa-Lobos noted above. I have no complaints about the recording or the CD presentation. The programme notes are as good as ever even if I am always left wanting a little bit more about the obscure works and composers.

I always sympathise with Danacord when I think of them trying to make a selection from the eight concerts that make up the Festival. It must be very difficult to do indeed. Perhaps if I am honest I wish they would release the entire proceedings – but this is probably a pipe dream.

If the selection on this disc is anything to go by, it must have been a great event that explored many hidden treasures from composers both well known and obscure.

I heartily recommend this to all listeners who enjoy piano music from the romantic and late romantic schools of composition.

John France


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