Geneva-born Sigismond Thalberg is possibly best known
for his rivalry with Liszt, and his ‘three-handed’ effect.
The latter involves the melody being heard in the middle
register with supporting bass and upper-line decoration
both in simultaneous evidence. My own personal first encounter
with him came in the form of Harold C. Schonberg’s book
on The Great Pianists
. Actual recordings of Thalberg’s
music are few and far between, however. One can only hope
that MDG’s efforts will bear further fruit.
on Themes from Rossini’s Moses
, Op. 33 uses the chorus
and quartet “La dolce aurora” from Act I and the prayer “Dal
tu stellato soglio” from Act IV in combination with Thalberg’s
original material. The piece is divided into two parts,
the first markedly freer than the second. Stefan Irmer’s
strength is, perhaps surprisingly in this music, with
the lyric. Thus his expositions of the themes evince
real strength, as if he is trying to make us aware of
the generative potentials of the motifs. Irmer’s technique
is exemplary, too, both in managing the sheer volume
of notes on the page and in delivering filigree that
seems to originate straight from the Bellini/Chopin axis.
The three-handed effect is present, alongside many virtuoso
moments, but the prevailing impression is of a gentle
lyricism imbued with utter respect for the music the
composer is paraphrasing. You can see an excerpt of the
score of the Moise Fantasy
on the Wikipedia
on Thalberg. It gives an idea as to the ‘blackness’ of
the score. There are other versions of this piece – Nicolosi
on Naxos and Robert Cappello on Danacord and Mykola Suk
on TNC, but it is difficult not to feel fully satisfied
by Irmer’s approach.
other Fantasy here is on motifs from another Rossini opera, La
Donna del Lago
. It is fascinating to go back to the
original - I used the Muti recording on Philips Duo 473
307-2, by the way - and then to sit back and enjoy Thalberg’s
pyrotechnics. Although the first five minutes of the fantasy
is basically Thalberg, it is “informed” by Elena’s cavatina “O
mattutini albori”, a theme which is them explicitly explored
in the later parts of the fantasy. The Act I quintet “Crudele
sospetto” leads to the famous “Coro del Bardi” (“Già un
raggio forier”). Here Irmer’s statements of the themes
can be rather direct - try just after the six-minute mark,
where the left-hand accompaniment could have been subtler,
more in the background. However, there remain huge amounts
to enjoy. If the Moses
Fantasy is clearly the greater
piece, the Donna del Lago
Fantasy is certainly worth
hearing. Intriguingly, there is a recording of this work
played in piano duo form on an all-Thalberg disc on Hungaroton
(HCD32154) which I have yet to hear.
is a good idea to split the twelve Etudes into two sets
of six - they were originally published like this, anyway
- and separate them with a Fantasy. The Etudes are fine
and interesting pieces, but they are not Chopin or Liszt.
Each of the first six tackles a particular technical problem,
while the second half of the set is more experimental.
Irmer does not seem to balk at any of the challenges Thalberg
sets. None of the first six are slower than Allegro
. The finger-twisting of No. 5 (B minor) is
supremely negotiated by Irmer, who also projects the mood
of the storm-tossed No. 6 (B flat minor) excellently. Irmer
sees “the emancipation of sound from manual strictures” as
a precursor of similar techniques found in Fauré and Debussy;
tremolo forms the shimmering basis of No. 8 in C - Irmer
laudably decides not to over-pedal. The Lento tenth Etude
is a dream that owes much to Liszt’s Liebesträume
although I doubt Thalberg would thank me much for saying
so. The warmth of A flat major suffuses the penultimate
Etude before the final, F major, Etude opens out the sound-world
to encompass grandeur.
complete list of Thalberg’s works with dates is available here
although the dates do not always accord with the MDG documentation.
For instance, the Moise Fantasy
is listed as from
is a major release in many ways, and an entirely laudable
one in every way.