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Fantaisie fantasme
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV903: Fantasy (1717-30) [8:14]
Jonathan KEREN (b.1978)
Fantaisie, mais 2 Fantastrophes: First Fantastrophe (2007) [4:48]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Fantasies, Op.116: Intermezzo in a minor (1892-3) [4:21]

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Six Little Pieces, Op.19/1-3 (1911) [3:59]

György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Musica Ricercata: 6th movement (1951-3) [0:49]
Leos JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sonata ‘1.X.1905’: The Presentment (1905) [7:25]

John CAGE (1912-1992)
Sonata No.5 for prepared piano (1946-8) [1:34]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasy in c minor, K475 (1785) [13:47]
CAGE
Sonata No.12 for prepared piano (1946-8) [3:32]
JANÁČEK
Sonata ‘1.X.1905’: The Death (1905) [6:59]
LIGETI
Musica Ricercata: 8th movement (1951-3) [1:06]
SCHOENBERG
Six Little Pieces, Op.19/4-6 (1911) [2:18]
BRAHMS
Fantasies, Op.166: Capriccio in d minor (1892-3) [2:44]
KEREN
Fantaisie, mais 2 Fantastrophes: Fantaisie (2007) [4:23]
Fantaisie, mais 2 Fantastrophes: Last Fantastrophe (2007) [3:47]
BACH
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue: Fugue (1717-30) [6:40]
David Greilsammer (piano)
rec. April, 2007, Studio L’Heure bleue, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. DDD.
Booklet with notes in French and English.
NAÏVE V5081 [76:36]

 


How does a talented young musician get started in a world where talent alone is not enough?  In particular, how do you persuade the punters to part with full price when there are plenty of established players out there whose performances have been reissued at mid- or bargain-price, often in recent DDD recordings?

A few attractive photographs on the cover and in the magazines certainly helps and, if you have two attractive young performers, include them both on the cover and as often as possible inside the booklet – as EMI have done recently with the Sabine Meyer-Julian Bliss CD of Krommer and Spohr Concertos.  If that doesn’t work, get your star to look melancholy or deeply thoughtful, as if about to deliver the smouldering performance of a lifetime: see Nicola Benedetti’s DGG CD of Vaughan Williams and Tavener and Paul Lewis’s penultimate Harmonia Mundi CD of Beethoven Sonatas, to name just two recent releases.

Naïve don’t feel the need to sell, say, their Alessandrini CDs of Monteverdi Madrigals in this way.  They have, however, certainly managed to present David Greilsammer on the cover of this CD as a handsome, deeply thoughtful young man, the heir to a long tradition dating back at least to Hilliard’s famous miniature.  But they have done more to intrigue the prospective purchaser.  The lower-case title fantaisie_fantasme tells us nothing about the composers included – perhaps it is to be a CD of improvisation?  Then there are the three attractive young women of oriental appearance in the background: are they some kind of backing group?  Why are they in a huddle, with Greilsammer turned away from them?  Are they his fantasy?  Does the fantaisie involve the mystic East? 

This probably attracts and intrigues the browser enough to turn the CD over and look at the table of contents.  No backing group, alas, just plain performances of a range of piano works with some variant of the word ‘fantasy’ in the title or in the concept.  A wide range, too, from Bach to a piece recently commissioned by Greilsammer from Jonathan Keren.  The programme itself is a kind of fantasy, a mirror image with the Mozart at its centre, the composers revisited in the second half in the reverse of the order in which they were first presented. 

Certainly the idea of a CD of piano music involving the concept of fantasy is very worthwhile but is the present disc anything other than a gimmick?  I have to say at the outset that it doesn’t work for me to have composers so diverse interspersed with one another: I’d very much prefer an all-Bach or all-Brahms CD or to have the Keren pieces in the company of other contemporary music.  The label ‘fantasy’ doesn’t, for me, connect these works any more than a recent Simax CD (PSC1269) convinced me that I wanted to hear Beethoven’s Op.111 Sonata sandwiched between two pieces by Arne Nordheim which had been inspired by it.  None of the more recent music here – even the Cage – perplexes me in the way that the Nordheim did, but the programme does not, for me, sit well as a whole. 

Greilsammer’s inaugural CD of early Mozart Piano Concertos (K175, K238 and K246, on Vanguard ATMCD1789) was very well received in some quarters, so it is hardly surprising that he has chosen to make the Mozart Fantasy the centre point of this collection.  Nor is it surprising that he plays this piece extremely well: were he now to record an all-Mozart CD, I am sure that it would be as well received as his disc of the concertos.  (Yes, I know the catalogue is full of excellent versions of Mozart’s piano music and the anniversary year is over.)  Greilsammer’s note significantly emphasises the centrality of Mozart : “My journey begins at the very heart of this core, with Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor …”  Perhaps the three dots indicate unfinished business with Mozart; if so, I hope Naïve or some other company allows him to complete that business. 

The same qualities which inform his Mozart – a cantabile delicacy of touch combined with vigour where appropriate – is also evident in the Bach, though the end of the Fugue is a little heavy and the separation of the Fantasy (track 1) and the Fugue (track 16, the final track) partly spoils my enjoyment.  Yes, one could re-programme the tracks but to do that every time one plays this CD would be a nuisance.

Regular readers will know that I am no great fan of Bach on the piano but playing like this, on a par with Glenn Gould or Angela Hewitt, is the best way to do it if it must be done.  Without wishing to endorse his prejudices, Bach on the piano reminds me of Dr Johnson’s remark after attending a Quaker meeting: “Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

The Janaček Sonata, though its two movements are presented in the right order, would also be more effective played together: the damage here is less apparent, but continuity is lost in the mirror-programming.  Again, an all-Janáček programme from Greilsammer would be welcome. 

The Brahms Op.116 works are less damaged by being separated.  They, like the Bach and Mozart, benefit from a lightness of touch which brings out the fantasy elements very effectively.

The twentieth-century pieces, too, can stand up to the separation which the programming brings: these, too, are well played.  As Greilsammer himself commissioned the Keren work and gave its first performance as recently as June 2007, one may safely assume that he offers the ideal performance.  It is pleasant enough – certainly nothing too avant-garde to scare the horses – and the first piece even makes a good transition from the Bach to the Brahms, despite my remarks about the mixed programme not working in general. 

The notes in the booklet contain plenty of information about the Keren pieces, about Keren the composer and about David Greilsammer.  Greilsammer’s two-page note about how he assembled the programme tells us very little about the pieces themselves.  Why, for example, did Ligeti choose the title Musica Ricercata for these piano pieces?  They certainly do not evoke the contrapuntal style of the ricercar, as in Bach’s Musical Offering, though No.11 (not on this CD) is an act of homage to Frescobaldi.  No.6 presumably qualifies for inclusion in a CD of fantasy because of the way in which its jollity comes to an abrupt and unresolved end.  No.8 is a dance-like piece which again ends abruptly.  The Ligeti pieces are the least substantial music on this CD: I can understand why Ligeti himself apparently had doubts about them. 

The recording was made in l’Heure bleue Salle de Musique at La Chaux-de-Fonds, advertised in the booklet as “one of Europe’s finest music hall [sic] with extraordinary acoustics.”  The accompanying photograph of a piano looking lost in a large auditorium suggests that the acoustic is going to be resonant but, in the event, I was not aware of any acoustic peculiarities – which is much more of a compliment than it perhaps sounds.

I wouldn’t advise rushing out to buy this CD but I would advise you to watch out for CDs with more unified programmes from David Greilsammer, especially if they include Mozart.

Brian Wilson

 

 


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