One of the things that annoys me most about some
reviewers and musicologists is the 'Macbeth' approach to composers
who are not noted for there propensity to push the limits of composition
to new and further bounds.
Let me explain. The stanza recited by the witches
in the opening scene of the fourth act is familiar to all schoolchildren:-
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Now these well-known lines are almost parodied
in the programme notes to this excellent CD -"... we hear hints
of Schumann and Mendelssohn ... a Russian flavour ... early Scriabin
... reminiscent of Glazunov ... MacDowell's Witches Dance ...
Hoffman's Berceuse ... Listzian quality" and so on
and so forth. It is as if Emil von Sauer was simply indulging
in the creation of a confection. A little bit of this and a little
bit of that all tossed into the pot that he then claims as his
To be fair an author will often use analogy to
try to explain the nature of unfamiliar music. He will attempt
to relate those pieces that the reader is likely to know and understand
to help them understand that which is obscure. And I suspect that
this approach is fine as far as it goes. It can be helpful to
know if the general feel of the music owes more to Beethoven than
Debussy. Yet there is always a grave danger that we forget the
fact that few composers work in a vacuum. It is indeed rare for
a composer to be indifferent to the music that is in the air about
him or her. Perhaps Edgar Varèse is one of the few exceptions
that proves the point. However it is surely much better to say
that a composer such as von Sauer was in the Late Romantic tradition
rather than try to identify phrase by phrase pastiche, allusion
of sheer theft of other men's flowers. It is infinitely more pleasurable
to listen to these piano works as entities rather than constantly
looking for sources. We must try to enjoy the work for its own
sake and not as better or, more often, less good than another
composer of our ken.
All this being said, it is only fair to admit
that Emil von Sauer was best known at one time as a pianist. And
not only a great pianist but also one of Liszt's pupils. An outworking
of his career was the production of editions of the complete piano
works of Brahms, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann. So the technique,
style and modus operandi of these composers will have been well
implanted in his mind.
However the truth with von Sauer lies, I believe,
in his desire to produce music that suited his recitals and his
public. He was to a certain extent responding to demand. The late
nineteenth and early twentieth century was noted for a number
of fine composer pianists, including Rachmaninov, Hofmann, Godowsky,
Busoni and Paderewski. Many of these pieces were of the encore
or salon variety suitable for the concert hall allowing the pianist's
technique to be well displayed. Or more prosaically, giving the
public what they wanted.
The lead item on this CD is quite possibly the
best - the Prelude Passione from the Suite Moderne.
This was written in 1906 for fellow pupil of Franz Liszt, Giovanni
Sgambati (1841-1914). This music is exactly as the title suggests
- complex and chock full of exuberant pianism. The rest of the
suite never quite matches the opening, although there is much
of interest here. The slow Air Lugubre fits its title admirably.
However at nearly ten minutes it feels a touch too long. Yet even
here repeated listening brings a greater appreciation of this
subtly varied movement. The Scherzo Grotesque opens quietly
but soon builds up into a complex and attractive, but not too
grotesque, piece! The 'trio' section is particularly lovely. Once
again the Gavotte is an appealing bit of pianism; it well reflects
the older form from the standpoint of the late romantic. The last
movement is a little theme and variations. I have to concede that
the 'theme' sounds very much as if they had been penned by Schumann
- however the variations are quite certainly Sauer's own, with
many charming and attractive touches.
The set of five miniatures 'Aus lichten Tagen'
(From the Good Old Days) are much more in the style of late
nineteenth century salon music. However they are none the worse
for that. The pieces are all marginally picturesque - First
Signs of Spring; At the Cradle; At the Spinning Wheel. The
generically named Interludium and Capriccietto are
also full of reminiscence and nostalgia for 'better days.' Altogether
it is an attractive little suite with its virtuosity far exceeding
the somewhat trite titles of each movement. The date of its composition
The first two volumes of Danacord's Complete
Works gave us the Twenty-Nine Concert Etudes. Here, on
this present CD, we have another three with the same title. However
these are not a supplement to this collection, as we would expect.
They were written around 1913 and published whilst he was still
composing the 29. There is an important difference as well. The
original set of 'studies' are in fact works suitable for recitals
and designed to appeal directly to the audience. However the present
set of three Etudes are in fact genuine studies. The first
is an exercise in thirds and the last a difficult exercise in
octaves. The middle study is full of unexpected modulations and
subtle shifts of rhythm. They all sound difficult, yet in spite
of this 'academic' nature they are joy and a pleasure to listen
Sauer wrote two works entitled Galop de Concert.
The present one was composed in 1911. It is a fine work in the
style of Liszt.(Yes! I know I am making an analogy). Yet even
amongst these bravura pages there is a sense of nostalgia and
even wistfulness. Great stuff.
Danacord are extremely lucky to have Oleg Marshev
as an exclusive recording artist. I have had the pleasure to review
more than half of his current CD catalogue. A brief look at this
catalogue reveals a tremendous range of achievement. Most of his
recordings fall into the late-romantic and post-romantic tradition.
We have some fine explorations into unfamiliar territory, including
rare Richard Strauss piano music and the Opera and Ballet Paraphrases
by Pablo Pabst. He does not neglect the Scandinavian schools of
music. There are recordings of the piano concerti by the Langgaards
père et fils; and two fascinating works by August Winding
and Emil Hartmann. He has tackled the greats: Prokofiev's Piano
Sonatas, Rachmaninov's Concerti and the complete works
for piano and orchestra by Tchaikovsky are in preparation.
Then of course there is the ongoing cycle of
the complete piano works of Emil von Sauer. Our present recording
is the fifth and I understand that a sixth is imminent. This will
include the Second Piano Concerto - a work I have not yet
I have noted Oleg Marshev's curriculum vitae
in a number of previous reviews for Musicweb, however it is only
fair to say that we are dealing with a very fine pianist who is
totally confident in whatever style of music he is playing.
The music on this CD cannot be described as 'great'
music. It is not ground-breaking or earth-shattering. Emil von
Sauer is not a genius. However what we have is a craftsman at
work. Every note of this composer's music seems just right. There
is no way that he can be accused of note-spinning. We are conscious
of a great composer/pianist's technique being reflected into his
music. This is music to enjoy; to just lie back and relish. That
is not to say there is no depth here - the music is actually quite
full of emotion and passion.
The skill and technique and craftsmanship that
Oleg Marshev bring to these works combines with the composer's
creativity to produce a satisfying, enjoyable, interesting and
often quite moving experience.
I recommend this CD to all those listeners who
enjoy tuneful music that is extremely well written and finely
played and who are not put off music simply because it is not
written by one of the very few 'movers and shakers' of the musical
von Sauer (1862-1942) Piano Works in Four volumes.
Marshev recordings reviewed:
Prokofiev (1891-1953) Volumes 1-5
SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975) Piano Concertos [PSh] also
RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Piano Concertos
Rachmaninov (1873-1943) Piano Works
Morceau de Concert
and HARTMANN piano concertos
Opera and Ballet paraphrases
MIASKOVSKY:Vergilbte Seiten ("Yellowed Pages") op.
Siegfied and Rued Piano Concertos
STRAUSS (1864-1949) Piano Music