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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.