This CD was a sort
of desideratum for me. I have known
the First Concerto since it was
released by Hyperion (CDA
66790 – coupled with Scharwenka’s
Fourth). Ever since then, I have
been waiting for this Second Concerto.
Rightly or wrongly in my mind I had
built up this work into a masterpiece
in waiting. The truth is a little more
complicated; the headline being that
this is an excellent and even glorious
work with a definite weak point in the
Emil von Sauer was
one of those musicians who were accomplished
as both soloist and composer. There
were a number of virtuosos like him
including Hofmann, Godowsky, Busoni,
Paderewski and Rachmaninov. Sauer enjoyed
a long career of music-making – which
also included the preparation of the
great editions of Chopin, Brahms and
Schumann. I have outlined his life and
times in a previous
review in this series of Danacord
The Second Piano
Concerto is in four movements which
are played without a break. There is
much cross-referencing of themes between
and amongst these movements. This lends
the feeling of a tightly-conceived work.
There is also a perceived complexity
borne out of the simplicity and vice
The work opens quietly
with a tune from a solo oboe. There
is a definite oriental feel to this
which crops up here and there throughout
the work. The piano steals in with a
quiet cadenza; however the intensity
soon starts to build up. There is a
strong chordal passage for piano in
dialogue with the orchestra; then an
attractive duet between the soloist
and a solo trumpet ensues. The pressure
slowly builds up with much exciting
writing for soloist and band. There
is a little relaxation with a more reflective
passage before we hear the trumpet and
piano once again. Then comes a glorious
romantic moment; this is the stuff that
makes a ‘romantic’ concerto all that
one imagines it should be. There is
a reprise of the oboe’s oriental musings
before the movement closes with a short
chordal coda. This first movement get
the work off to a fine start. The playing
is beautiful and the balance just about
perfect. However I noticed a bit of
a hard edge in the recording of some
of the passages which is slightly off-putting.
The second movement
is a Scherzo and is presented
as an interesting argument between the
piano and orchestra. Soon a lovely little
sequential tune appears on the scene
before a much harder theme takes the
stage. This is a bit of a clog dance
folk-tune which reminds me of something
part-way between Grainger’s Handel
in the Strand and Ketèlbey’s
The Clock and the Dresden Figures.
All through this movement we are
conscious of a perfect dialectic between
soloist and orchestra. A ‘big’ tune
is introduced in the last minute or
so before the ‘clattering’ returns.
Yet the piece ends quite delicately.
The composer drops
into the third movement without a pause.
This is, quite definitely the heart
of the concerto. Soon a big tune announces
itself – at first in the orchestra.
This is truly stunning. There are a
few comments from the woodwind before
the piano enters the scene, to discover
the tune for itself. This is perfect
romantic piano music. Wearing the heart
on the sleeve indeed! There is quite
a lengthy section for the soloist without
the orchestra; however after nearly
a minute the band creeps in on the scene.
It is sustained and restrained but soon,
under control, builds into a lovely
climax. There is a quieter, more reflective,
section before the fine, powerful reprise
of the main theme. The piano supports
this music with complex arpeggios. There
is a definite Tristan feel to this overwhelming
music. It is music to lie back with
and just let wash over you. Then the
tension is off. The composer brings
a number of reminiscences of past music
before the listener. Soon the preparation
begins for the transition to the last
movement. I have no doubt that this
movement is one of the ‘hidden’ gems
of the piano concerto genre. If people
only knew about it, it would be Top
of the Classic FM Pops. It is as good
as anything and better than most in
presenting sheer musical enjoyment,
passion and emotion.
Perhaps the final movement
is not the most impressive follow-on,
after having been to heaven and back
in the previous one. Yet the character
of the first theme is simple and forthright
in contrast to what has preceded it.
There is a new romantic theme introduced
before the orchestra take a long section
without the soloist. Then the piano
begins summing up the concerto; I am
not sure how effective this is. There
is an edge to this music that jars slightly
with what has gone before. Material
is tossed back and forth – full of allusion
to and quotes of earlier material. There
is a kind of powerful cadenza before
the movement concludes with a nod to
the opening pages of the work. I feel
that the inspiration has run out. This
movement is not of the same quality
as those that have preceded it. I have
listened to it a few times and still
feel that it is the weakest link in
this otherwise great work
This concerto is a
good example of the Romantic Piano Concerto.
I am against excerpting movements from
works – however I feel that the slow
movement would stand alone as a classic
example of its genre.
The Cinq Morceaux
de difficulté moyenne or
Five Pieces of Moderate Difficulty
can be passed over reasonably quickly.
These attractive numbers were published
in 1909 and were dedicated to the composer’s
daughter Dolly. This work has been billed
as Sauer’s Second Suite. This
first was the Suite Moderne which
has been previously issued by Danacord.
From a concert pianist’s point of view
none of these five pieces are terribly
difficult. There is considerable contrast
between these movements and interest
is never lost. The first is an attractive
March – which actually is quite
long for a character piece; it lasts
for nearly six minutes. The second is
an interesting little study which is
just sheer pleasure to listen to. The
Valse Lente is the heart of this
suite. Typical of its genre, it is quite
wistful without being overtly sentimental.
It is played with simplicity and subtlety.
The fourth piece, a Berceuse,
nods to Brahms and is none the worse
for this debt. The last piece is a Humoresque
which sounds to me much more than just
moderately difficult! It is chromatic,
thereby contrasting with what has gone
before. Of the five pieces it is the
most ‘modern’ sounding. However with
the ‘trio’ section we are on more traditional
ground. These are salon pieces and deserve
the occasional airing.
The last four works
on this disc seem to me to be a tidying
up of odds and ends in the Sauer Catalogue.
They are gleaned from over a period
of about ten years between 1899 for
the Galop de Concert and 1908
for the Straussian (Johann) Petite
Scène de Ballet. The Menuet
is somewhat Schubertian in its appeal.
The Polka de Concert is actually
quite long work; it is much more than
salon music. The complexity and sound-world
make it quite a major contribution to
the genre. It is easy to write this
kind of music off as being period pieces,
music of its day; yet for sheer pleasure
and enjoyment it cannot be bettered.
We have a fine pianist bringing his
technique to composition and leaving
a legacy of well wrought miniatures.
Nowadays we tend to prefer weightier
piano works at our recitals. The only
space for ‘salon’ works is the encore.
However in Sauer’s time, at the turn
of the twentieth century, there was
less aversion to downright popular tunes
in the recital room. When listening
to these pieces it helps us if we bear
this bit of contextual history in mind.
I have no doubt that
this Second Piano Concerto by
Sauer is a triumph for Oleg Marshev.
It shows an amazing amount of dedication
to take a totally unknown piano concerto
and prepare it for performance. There
is no doubt either that with this music
Marshev is in his element; the whole
Romantic Piano Concerto thing seems
to appeal to his big and generous style.
Just look at his listings in the Danacord
catalogue. There are discs of piano
concerti by Rachmaninov, Rubinstein
and Tchaikovsky. He has explored the
Hexameron by Liszt, Thalberg
and others. But his abilities are not
limited to the works of the well known
piano romantics. There are the complete
piano works of Prokofiev and there is
an unusual disc of the complete piano
works of Richard Strauss – both of which
I have had the pleasure of reviewing.
This highly talented
pianist has given us a wonderfully convincing
version of this Second Piano Concerto.
He plays this work with affection and
with total commitment. He takes this
romantic music seriously without any
condescension. The same applies to the
other works on this disc. It would have
been all too easy to play the ‘salon’
pieces in a less than serious manner
– almost to make fun of them. Marshev
plays all these works with proficiency,
great technical mastery and pure pleasure.
I certainly get the feeling that he
is enjoying himself.
The orchestra under
James Loughran play extremely well and
together with the soloist provide a
totally convincing performance of this
‘lost’ work. I did detect a little hardness
in the recording which gave an edge
to some of the piano figuration. But
generally this CD sounds great.
The programme notes
could be a little more extensive – especially
for a composer who is little known and
for whom there are few works of reference.
However the disc is generally well presented
and together with the other five in
the Sauer series makes up a very interesting
and attractive set.
This is an excellent
CD which fills an important gap in the
repertoire of the romantic piano concerto
- essential listening. Marshev’s playing,
is, as usual, brilliant.