Let me immediately make clear that this is a beautifully played
CD which skilfully combines superb technique with an imaginative
‘recreation’ of a number of well-known works by Robert Schumann
and Frédéric Chopin. Both the realisation and the playing reveal
new depths for many of these pieces that are both entertaining
and quite often moving. From this point of view alone, this
release is well worth the investment.
From a personal point of view I always have a wee bit of difficulty
with ‘transcription’. I guess that my main problem is: ‘Why
transcribe a perfectly good piece of music, when there are so
many excellent works in the catalogues that rarely gain a hearing?’
In this present recording, for example, why produce a transcription
of some of Chopin’s Etudes when the original work by the composer
is near perfect? Or why take a song-cycle and ‘create’ a version
for piano solo? With the Dichterliebe, is the poetry
of Heine not an integral part of the entire piece? Are we not
in danger of losing the balance of tenderness, despair, fervour
and anger that characterises the ‘original’ work? This song-cycle
by Schumann was the earliest example of the genre that I heard
and I treasure it as a masterpiece: I am not sure that I want
it tampered with – no matter how effectively.
On the other hand, the history of transcription is full of masterpieces.
I think of the many pieces transcribed by Franz Liszt – the
Soirées de Vienne based on Schubert’s waltzes and also
some fifty of that composer’s songs. Gounod, Wagner, Bellini
and Rossini were all subject to reworking from his pen. So there
is a great precedent for what Meinders has achieved on this
Frédéric Meinders partly addresses my concerns in the liner-notes.
There appear to be three main elements to his programme of transcription.
Firstly, the Dichterliebe is largely a concatenation
of the vocal line and the piano part with very little creative
additions. This piece has not been ‘souped up’. It seems that
there are only a few changes of register allocated to the melody
to make it playable. I must confess that it does work well.
The resulting piano pieces (or is it a suite?) are effective
and retain much of the emotional content of the original. This
transcription does highlight some of the melody and harmony
that may be obscured by concentration on the singer and the
The second tranche of transcriptions recorded here are for the
left-hand. There has long been a school of piano composition
that caters for this particular sub-genre: the sleeve-notes
point out that there is a vast amount of music for this medium.
Apparently some 450 composers have written some 4000-plus titles:
this compares to a handful, some 75 only, of works for the right-hand
I can easily understand the need for someone like Paul Wittgenstein
(1887-1961) who lost his right arm during the Great War, to
have piano concertos and other pieces dedicated to him by Ravel,
Prokofiev and Korngold. However, I do wonder what is the added
value of Chopin’s Etude Op.25, No.1 being dished up for left-hand.
Thirdly, there is the process of‘re-creation’ applied to the
Chopin pieces. Perhaps the inspiration for these came from the
massive cycle of Leopold Godowsky’s 53 Studies in Chopin’s Etudes?
Meinders has written that a ‘transcriber is transcribing the
work as an homage to the original composer.’ He adds rather
interestingly, but perhaps not humbly, that the transcriber
‘knows the work better than the composer, who may have written
the piece in half an hour; the transcriber thinks weeks about
making another work on it, based on the idea of the original.’
The basic concept appears to be that Meinders’ work ‘may be
seen as an exploration of the possibilities of the piano, as
well as a modernization or harmonies (when the piece can accept
it) and as a contrapuntal exercise.’
In spite of my misgivings - perhaps deriving from a mis-guided
musical snobbery - I thoroughly enjoyed this CD. The pianism
is excellent: the technical wizardry is obvious but not overstated.
Nothing here sounds simple, but Frédéric Meinders has managed
to create a genre that seems natural and not overly-pretentious.
However, one word of warning: do not listen to this CD at a
sitting. Take it a composer and a work at a time. There is a
danger of being sated by this complex and bravura style of musical
One last thought. Whatever a transcriber does to a piece of
music by Schumann or Chopin or anyone else, the original is
still there! So perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the
‘new creation’ without worrying too much about the ethics of