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Christophorus Records

Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 781 [31:07]
Concerto for Four-Handed Piano and Orchestra in C major, Op. 153 [41:13]
Liu Xiao Ming and Horst Gobel (pianos)
Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt/Nikos Athinaos
rec. 24-28 June 1996, Konzerthalle C.P.E. Bach, Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Christophorus, the adventurous German record label are to be congratulated for making available many recordings from lesser-known composers. This release of two rare and attractive scores, one orchestral and one concertante, from Carl Czerny is one such. It seems that these 1996 recordings were originally available on the Signum label. The majority of Czerny’s scores do not have composition dates and I have not been able to establish dates for these two scores.

Czerny is represented in the record catalogues today mainly for his piano scores, however, there are a few recordings of works from other genres. My favourite of the Czerny releases is a disc of chamber music recorded at Bad Arolsen in 1994. The Nonet for cor anglais, clarinet, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano (1850) and the Grande Sérénade Concertante for piano, clarinet, French horn and cello, Op. 126 (1827) performed by Consortium Classicum and pianist Claudius Tanski on the label Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (see review).

Czerny’s name even during his own lifetime became known to the public more as a pedagogue than as a composer worthy of serious consideration. Little has changed up to the present day as his reputation as a scholastic composer continues to be associated with the awful memories of ‘Easy and Progressive Exercises’ that struck dread into the hearts of piano students. Today his value and considerable legacy to piano teaching cannot be overestimated. However, perhaps owing to Czerny’s excess of production, his prowess as a creative composer is often overlooked.

Mozart died in Vienna in 1791 and Carl Czerny was born there in the same year. A child prodigy on the piano the nine year old Czerny gave his first public performance in his home town playing Mozart's Piano Concerto in C minor, K.491. He was extremely well connected and made the acquaintance of luminaries such as Hummel, Salieri, Chopin, Beethoven and Clementi as a young man. As Peter Rummenhöller points out in the accompanying essay:

His position as a pupil of Beethoven and teacher of Franz Liszt certainly makes Czerny a central figure in music.”

Inevitably Czerny and Beethoven are inextricably linked and the great composer’s influence over Czerny was immeasurable. Beethoven chose Czerny as his pupil to give the first Vienna performance of the Piano Concerto No.5 in E-Flat Major Emperor’, Op.73 in 1812. He also gave weekly concerts at his home that he devoted exclusively to Beethoven’s piano music. Many of these events were attended by Beethoven himself. For all Beethoven’s undoubted influence, in the two scores presented on this disc, I predominantly and consistently hear a fusion of the Classical sound world of Haydn and Mozart.

The prolific Czerny composed an astonishing thousand works in almost every sacred and secular genre. In particular his numerous technical studies and exercises continue to be widely used by piano students around the world today. I had to smile when I saw that Czerny had made arrangements of the Rossini operas Semiramide and William Tell for eight pianofortes, four hands each. As a guide Wikipedia have a Czerny ‘works-list’ that contains 861 opus numbers.

Sadly a very large number of the non-academic works have gone out of print or were never published at all; works that are now largely forgotten by history. Perhaps Czerny’s over-production diluted his creative powers and consequently a host of his lesser quality works have led the high calibre ones into undeserved obscurity.

The Concerto for Four-Handed Piano and Orchestra in C major, Op. 153 is scored for the unusual grouping of two performers playing at the same piano keyboard. Czerny wrote about his ability to play by heart and with complete accuracy everything that Beethoven and many other composers wrote for the piano. In view of this it is not surprising that the Concerto, it is said, contains several reminiscences, perhaps superficial, of Beethoven especially the fourth and fifth Piano Concertos. There are clearly parallels to the Triple Concerto, sharing the key of C major, the Rondo Alla Pollacca movement and the overall abundant strength and virtuosity.

The attractive opening movement of Czerny’s brilliant Four-Handed Piano Concerto marked Allegro con brio is given an interpretation by soloists Liu Xiao Ming and Horst Gobel that is often fiery and frequently uplifting. I was struck by some of the calmer episodes, such as at 3:42-4:57 that have a strong Mozartian feel. In the hands of the talented duo the Adagio espressivo comes across as a dignified and mainly reflective. I enjoyed the Finale: marked Rondo alla Polacca played with vivacity and vigour by Liu Xiao Ming and Horst Gobel. There are a couple of sombre sections that provide only a short-lived soberness from the movement’s mainly jovial good humour.

Cast in four movements with a similar classical design to Haydn’s London Symphonies, Czerny’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 781 is said in the booklet essay to convey a spirit of expression in the nature of Beethoven and Clementi. To my ears, however, the spirit of Haydn and Mozart predominate.

The extended opening movement marked Andante maestoso ma con moto has a serious intent that seems to be conveying a courtly grandeur with a generally unrelenting forward momentum. The lengthy Andantino grazioso un poco moto is eloquent and somewhat reserved containing a graceful character of the dance. Pleasingly witty the Scherzo marked Moto vivace is full of life. I loved the subtle changes of rhythm that adds to the generally whimsical mood of the movement. The Finale an Allegro vivace provides a striking contrast between a restrained air of stateliness set against an ebullient abandon with effervescent dash.

Conductor Nikos Athinaos and the Brandenburgisches Staasorchester from Frankfurt hold both scores cleanly together in cogent and well paced performances.

It is good to have these two attractive Czerny scores back in the record catalogue. I am reminded that Czerny is not just a composer of instructional scores for the piano student but a composer who can entertain and often delight.

Michael Cookson



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