Piano Transcriptions by Frédéric Meinders
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Dichterliebe Op.48 (1840) [24:26]
Three Romances Op.94 (1849) [12:48]
From Kinderszenen, Von fremben Landerns und Menschen for the left hand (1838) [2:27]
From Liederkreis Op.39, Wehmut (1840) [1:56]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne Op.9 for left hand (1833) [3:03]
Etude Op.10 No.3 (1832) [3:37]
Etude Op.25 No.7 (1836) [4:52]
Waltz Op.64 No.2 (1846) [3:38]
Waltz Op.69 No.1 (1835) [3:24]
Waltz Op.70 No.3 (1855 posth.) [2:48]
Etude Op.25 No.8 combined with Op.25 No.3 & No.4 (1832-36) [1:07]
Impromptu Op.51 No.3 (1843) [4:51]
Lithuanian Song Op.74 No.16 (1831) [3:09]
Etude Op.25 No.1 for the left hand (1836) [3:21]
Waltz Op.64 No.1 (1846) [1:58]
Frédéric Meinders (piano)
rec. Arnhem, The Netherlands, 13-15 July 2010
Note: all work dates are for the original composition

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 CD

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 song.

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 alone.

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 composition.

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 the process?

John France

I thoroughly enjoyed this CD.