The first word of the title of this CD says
everything: it is certainly not misleading – ‘Rarities’. I pride
myself on having a reasonable knowledge of the literature of piano
music; however most of this CD is unknown to me. In fact, I had
not heard of three of the eight composers: another two of them
are names only. The only two pieces that I know well are Arnold
Bax’s What the minstrel told us
and Francis Poulenc’s Aubade
The Festival at Husum has been established for 24 years: it was founded by the pianist Peter Froundjian. The festival took for its inspiration the legendary twelve orchestral concerts by Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin (1902-1909) as well as the ‘Society for Forgotten Music’, founded by Vladimir Dukelsky in Paris in 1947. Dukelsky once wrote: -
"Why is great music often forgotten? Not because it is unworthy of a future, but because of the circumstances in which it was launched. It is tragic that a number of worthy compositions are plunged into oblivion following their premieres. Among factors contributing to their early demise are: imperfect performance, biased criticism, or audience indifference."
The proceedings open with a work and a composer which are new to me. However, the Fantasy in E flat by Egon Kornauth makes an impressive, romantic start to this CD. Kornauth was born in Austria in 1891 and began his musical career as pianist, an organist and later played cello in the Brno theatre and symphony orchestra. The sleeve-notes point out that he had an international career as an accompanist, a soloist and a conductor. Towards the end of his life he taught music theory in Vienna and Salzburg.
In amongst all this activity he studied composition with Robert Fuchs in Vienna and later with Franz Schrecker and Franz Schmidt. He composed a considerable number of pieces of works including chamber, symphonic and vocal music. Although he knew and understood many of the ‘latest’ contemporary trends in musical composition, he wrote in a late-romantic style.
The only ‘fault’ that could be held against the present fantasy is the ‘orchestral’ nature of the pianism. According to the programme notes, this appears to have been a feature of many of his piano works. Yet this can be forgiven (if forgiveness is required) in this attractive piece that explores a wide range of musical emotion and expression. I enjoyed this work and hope that Jonathan Powell will one day record more of this music. At present, this work appears to be the only piece of Egon Kornauth’s music that has been recorded.
The recording situation with Samuel Feinberg is happily much better than with Egon Kornauth. Most importantly, BIS
have released the cycle of twelve piano sonatas. As a composer, Feinberg appears to have gone through three stages. His early works are largely romantic however he began to experiment with serialism and other ‘modern’ techniques before returning to a more conservative style in his later years.
Sonata, which is actually quite short, is played in one movement. It has been likened to Scriabin, who incidentally died in the year of its publication, Medtner and early Szymanowski. Colin Clarke writing for MusicWeb International
has suggested that the music is written as ‘a single stream of consciousness’. It is a good description. The performance given by Nina Tichman reveals her as a fine advocate for this Sonata.
Some shorter works provide interest and variety in this selection of music. Hubert Rutkowski plays two contrasting pieces by the teacher/composer Theodor Leschetizky which musically evoke La Mélusine who was a water sprite from European mythology and a Toccata that owes much to the didactic music of Carl Czerny, but is certainly not a piece for the beginner!
Gabriel Pierné is one of those composers who always seem to hover in the background of his more famous contemporaries such as Ravel and Debussy. Very much a talented musician, Pierné was an organist, a conductor and a composer. His compositions cover a wide range of genres from songs to a piano concerto. However most of his piano pieces were composed in his younger days. The present Nocturne en forme de valse
, played by Arturo Pizarro was the second of ‘Trois Pièces formants Suite de Concert’ which was composed in 1904. Although this piece is quite clearly in the romantic style, there is an edge that makes it just that little bit dark and introverted. All is not quite as it seems to be. Fauré may be the nearest stylistic marker.
I am delighted that Denis Pascal chose to give a definitive performance of Arnold Bax’s What the minstrel told us
. Although this is a piece that Bax enthusiasts will know and treasure, I guess that it is not particularly well-known in the wider world of piano repertoire. At present there are three versions of this great piece in the catalogues: Eric Parkin on Chandos
, Ashley Wass on Naxos and Iris Loveridge on Lyrita
I have often wondered exactly what it was that ‘the minstrel told us.’ The work which was written for Harriet Cohen in 1919 was subtitled ‘ballad’ and there seem to be three things ‘going on’ in this piece. Firstly, there is the composer’s relationship with Harriet; secondly there is the genuine interest that Bax had for Irish folk tales and bardic poetry. And lastly there is his well-known anger about the events of the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising. Bax lost many of his friends at this time and was deeply upset by the political situation. The piece is really a rhapsody built in the form of an arch. The opening and closing sections are restrained and contemplative: these contrasts with the stormy, violent middle section. Lewis Foreman has described this aggressive music as a ‘wild dance’ and being ‘full of barbaric rhythms.’
Francis Poulenc’s Aubade,
brilliantly played here by Jonathan Plowright,
is well-known in its concertante guise with a fair number of recordings being available: it needs little comment. However, I have not heard it in its piano solo version before. Although it is manifestly a worthy addition to the pianist’s repertoire, I do prefer the original version for piano and eighteen instruments. It is interesting that Pascal Rogé does not include this arrangement in his ‘complete piano works’ issued on Decca.
Eliane Rodrigues is a name I have not come across as either a composer or a pianist. However the performance here of two her 15 Momentos musicais
mark her out as exceptional in both talents. The first piece (No.11) is a musical portrayal of a ‘carousel’ realised as a waltz: it is dedicated to her son Sergio. The second (No.12) is based on a traditional Brazilian dance, the Miudhino
: this is dedicated to her other son Christopher. Both pieces are within the tradition of European romantic piano music, although the Latin American colouring is never far away.
One of the most important works on this CD is the Sonata No.1 (1924) by the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff. Although there are already at least two other recordings of this work in the catalogues, it is a masterpiece that deserves to be better known and widely played. Schulhoff was not a serial composer, in spite of his close friendship with Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils. His musical antecedents included Alexander Scriabin, Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy. In later years he was influenced by the ‘Dadaists’ and finally by the advent of jazz and ragtime. These elements were synthesised with neo-classicism and dance music from a variety of cultures to produce a very personal ‘modernism.’
The sonata is in four fairly short movements that are melodically and harmonically related. Various pianistic devices are used including clusters, major second chords, motor rhythms and a passacaglia theme that uses all twelve notes of the scale – but is not serially manipulated. In the brief third movement the composer introduces ragtime elements before ending with clusters. The last movement refers back to the first and makes use of an insistent toccata like figuration sometimes supported by an aggressive pedal-point. Scale passages bring the movement and the sonata to a close.
Janice Weber proves this Sonata to be an exciting and exhilarating work that has not become old-fashioned, in spite of its use of a somewhat dated musical vocabulary. Erwin Schulhoff definitely demands a reappraisal.
Husum allows talented and well-known pianists to play worthy music that may otherwise not find a place in their recital programmes. The music is performed at some nine concerts and a selection is issued on CD. Needless to say there is never any doubt about the quality of the playing. A glance at the list of pianists is enough to suggest a huge range of talent. I would wish to single out a particular performer as every note or every piece is performed with sympathy, technical understanding and enthusiasm. It is high praise indeed.