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Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2003
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

Les Soirées de Nazelles (1930-1936) [23:06]
Jonathan Plowright, piano
Pierre de Bréville (1861-1949)

Portraits de maîtres (unknown) [11:15]
Florent Schmitt (1870-1958)

Valse-Nocturne No 1 (unknown) [5:11]
Marie-Catherine Girod - piano
Carlos Guastavino (1912-2001)

Bailecito (1940) [2:37]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

Dansa do Indio Branco (Ciclo Brasileiro No 4) (1936-37) [4:16]
Arturo Sudbrack Jamardo - piano
Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927)

Poco allegretto (Sensommernätter, op 33 no 5) (1914) [2:36]
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)

Quatre Préludes, op. 22 (1897) [3:27]
Kaikhosru S. Sorabji (1892-1988))

Etude transcendante No. 13 (c.1944) [3:28]
Fredrik Ullén - piano
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1856)

Romanza in fa (1844) [1:31]
Julian Scriabin (1908-1919)

Prélude, op 2 (1918) [3:22]
2 Préludes, op 3 (1918) [1:20]
Prélude (1919) [1:46]
Andrea Bacchetti, piano
Michail Glinka (1804-1857)

Brilliant Variations (on a Donizetti theme "Anna Bolena") (1831) [9:50]
Elena Kuschnerova, piano
Recorded 16-23 August 2003 at Schloss vor Husum, Germany.
DANACORD DACOCD 619 [74:53]

 

The opening work on this compilation from the Husum 2003 Festival is probably the most impressive – it is certainly the longest. Les Soirées de Nazelles consists of twelve variations designed to give an impression of some of the composer’s musical friends who were visiting him at his house, Grand Coteau, in Noizay. The programme notes point out that the ‘variations’ have an enigmatic, almost Satie-esque quality with titles to match - for example ‘casualness and discretion’ and ‘being generous.’ There is no obvious theme, this being replaced by a ‘Préambule’ at the start of the work. I suspect that it might have been helpful to have allocated separate tracks for these variations, though the notes usefully do give the timings. There is the usual mix of styles that one comes to expect from Poulenc. It amazes me that such diversity manages to sound coherent. There are impressions of Massenet, Chopin and the Circus; music hall, the cabaret and café society. Perhaps all Paris is here – certainly there are moments of charm and romance – lovers walking in the moonlight. However these are swept away by clowning and even a hint of Yankee Jazz. The final ‘movement’ is not the expected romp but a quiet exploration of the piano’s lower registers. This work is beautifully played by the British pianist Jonathan Plowright.

Marie-Catherine Girod has chosen two works by composers who barely have a place in the public eye. Of course, everyone knows that Florent Schmitt is a great composer; however a brief look at the catalogues shows only half a dozen CDs dedicated to his works. There are another couple of dozen pieces that appear on compilations. He has written symphonic works that nod to Wagner and Richard Strauss although perhaps he is best remembered for his great Piano Quintet. Schmitt was also a competent pianist and this is reflected in over 200 works for solo piano or duet.

The present Valse-Nocturne is described by the programme notes as being comparable to the salon styles of Moszkowski or Chabrier. Yet to me there is more to this Nocturne; here is a greater depth than most of these ‘period pieces’ normally yield. The piece is finely constructed and has melting harmonies that raise the hairs on the back of the neck. Perhaps the time is ripe for Florent Schmitt’s piano opus to be revisited?

The composer Pierre de Bréville is hardly a household name. He was born in 1861 and studied under César Franck and Thomas Dubois. He was not entirely dedicated to composition as he spent time teaching at the Scola Cantorum and wrote musical reviews for the Mercure de France. His magnum opus appears to have been the opera Eros Vainqueur. The composer died at in 1947. The present work, Portraits de maîtres pays tribute to a number of musical influences including Franck, Chausson, D’Indy, Fauré and Wagner. The very nature of the work makes it a little derivative and perhaps retro (the date of composition is not known). However it is unified and totally entertaining – a fine example of forgotten romantic piano music revived.

The Brazilian pianist Arturo Sudbrack Jamardo contributes two delightful pieces from Latin America. The first is by the Argentine composer Carlos Guastavino and is entitled Bailecito which means ‘little dance.’ This is one of those near perfect works that is impossible to fault or imagine being composed in any other way. Influenced by his country’s folk traditions – both native and Spanish - this work is one of his earliest mature pieces.

Of course Heitor Villa-Lobos is the most important figure in 20th century Latin American music. He wrote a vast amount of music for all media including twelve symphonies and five piano concerti. He is perhaps best remembered for his stunning Bachianas Brasileiras.

What many people do not know, however is that he was entirely self taught as a composer. His music has such a technically competent feel about it that it suggests a deep understanding of all aspects of musical composition. Yet there is never ever anything academic about Villa-Lobos’s music. It pulsates with Latin American rhythmic vitality and always seems to fuse European art music to the sounds of his native Brazil.

This fusion is particularly obvious in this present work, Dansa do Indio Branco from his piano suite Ciclo Brasileiro which contains four pieces of considerable technical difficulty. It provides the pianist with an excellent forum to display his virtuosity.

Wilhelm Stenhammar, the Swedish composer, is represented by a lovely movement from his Late Summer Nights Suite. This was published in 1914 and is very much a period piece. It can, perhaps, be criticised for being in thrall to Chopin and Liszt but having certain classical influences. Stenhammar is one of those composers who ought to be better known. He wrote a considerable amount of music including two symphonies and two piano concertos. Yet his name remains comparatively unknown to most non-Scandinavian listeners. Fredrik Ullén, a compatriot of Stenhammar takes this piece seriously and creates an atmospheric mood that certainly brings ‘Late Summer Nights’ to mind.

Ullén also plays the Four Preludes of Alexander Scriabin’s Opus 22. These date from 1897 which was the year of his marriage. Perhaps the most remarkable is the highly chromatic No. 2 which also experiments with rhythmic techniques that were later to become a vital part of the composer’s vocabulary. They are always a pleasure to listen to and especially so in this particular version.

A friend of mine always used to have this thing about Kaikhosru Sorabji; he would say to me that looking for CDs by this composer was a bit like asking for something behind the counter in a less than savory ‘bookshop’. It was so specialized that most record stores are not up to speed with his catalogue. And my friend was right. There seems to be no ‘big’ CD record label willing to take the risk with this ‘notorious’ composer. Of course there are reasons for this. Some of his works are humungous to say the least – lasting several hours (and these are not operas but ‘sonatas’!). Some of these works are regarded as being ‘impossible’ to play. And then there was the self-imposed ban on public performances in the 1930s. Yet the fact remains that he is probably the greatest of the unknown composers of the United Kingdom.

The Transcendental Studies are amongst the composer’s shorter pieces dating from the war years. The present study, No.13, is a study in trills and tremolos and it sounds fiendish. There is no doubt that Scriabin is somewhere in the background of this highly seductive and extremely sensual music. However few listeners will be able to give their full attention to the complete set of studies at one sitting – there are one hundred of them lasting for several hours!

For the record the composer was born in Chingford in 1892; he was the son of a Parsi father and a Sicilian mother.

The Verdi piece is a genuine rarity. In fact I do not think I have ever heard a piece of original piano music by this operatic genius. Of course there are plenty of arrangements of his potboilers. Apparently there are only two works extant for piano – the present Romance and a posthumous waltz.

The present work is what one might call ‘attractive’ and it is certainly salon music. There is no way that one could imagine the great scores such as Macbeth and Aida having come from the same pen. And it is not a juvenile work – written in 1844 when the composer was 31. Just the sort of thing to impress ‘dyed in the wool’ operatic enthusiasts with: simple accompaniment, pleasing tune and some nods to contemporary ‘pop’ Italian music.

Who was Julian Scriabin? Well as can be guessed he is related to Alexander. In fact he was the second child by his mistress, Tatyana de Schloezer, who had subsequently become the second Mrs. Scriabin.

Julian was born in 1908. He was precocious and learnt the piano; he was an accomplished artist and wrote poetry. All this was too good to last. He drowned in mysterious circumstances in the River Kneiper in 1919, aged only 11.

Assuming that the four preludes given here are genuinely by the young lad, they show a degree of technical ability and compositional skill that would have come to fruition had he lived. There is definitely a ‘son like father’ sound to these short pieces however Alkan also appears to have been an influence. They are an interesting addition to the canon of romantic piano music and deserve more than an occasional airing. I notice that Andrea Bacchetti’s gorgeous performance of these is not the only one in the catalogue; Evgeny Zarafiants has recorded them on Naxos 554145.

The last work on this CD is a set of attractive if not overly inspiring Brilliant Variations (on a Donizetti theme "Anna Bolena") by the father of Russian music, Mikhail Glinka. Glinka had the pleasure of meeting Donizetti in Italy in 1830; in fact he was at the premiere of the opera on which he was later to write his variations. They are best described as the sort of music that would have been extremely popular in the Parisian salons of the day. However, there is no doubt about the virtuosity required to play this music – especially in the coda.

Once again Danacord have given an interesting and entertaining selection from this great music festival dedicated to the lesser known romantic piano repertoire. If this is a representative sample of the week’s programme it must have been a truly educational experience.

The CD sounds superb, in spite of the caveat printed in the programme notes about the difficulties in producing an ideal Steinway sound in a low-roofed castle drawing room.

John France

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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