Walter GIESEKING (1895-1956)
Variations on a Theme by Edvard Grieg, for flute and piano [22:12]
Selected Songs by Richard Strauss, for solo piano [15:55]
Spiel um ein Kinderlied, for piano four hands [8:12]
Sonatine, for flute and piano [14:30]
Three Dance Improvisations, for piano [7:47]
Karen Haid (piano, piano II, flute)
rec. Recital Hall, Purchase College, SUNY, 11-13 January and 1-2 March 2000. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5696 [68:36]

To say that the great Debussy pianist Walter Gieseking is little known as a composer is an understatement - his entry in the New Grove does not even mention his works. In that regard, Karen Haid's comment in her ample, informative notes, that "each piece [...is] greatly cherished by performers and audiences upon discovery" is wide of the mark. She also describes the works in her unique recital as "musical treasure[s]", which most listeners will probably find an exaggeration, although they are certainly very easy on the ear, and not without many radiant passages.

Gieseking's music is stylistically impressionistic and pastoral - hardly surprising, given that his musical heroes were Debussy and Ravel and the fact that he inherited his father's love of the natural world. Often the influence of jazz shows through too, in the piano and flute writing alike, in all probability filtered again through Debussy and Ravel. The Three Dance Improvisations are more like something Gershwin or Grainger might have extemporised for party guests.

Gieseking can be forgiven for not showing any special insight into flute composition - he is self-taught, for one thing - but his piano writing too is surprisingly conventional, though never without interest. There is much here to tap fingers to and perhaps hum along with, not least the Spiel um ein Kinderlied ('Play on a Children's Song'), the song in question being Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The Flute Sonatina is probably the pick of the bunch: melodious, elegant, harmonically unconventional, reminiscent now of Poulenc.

For a soloist, Haid's programme is out of the ordinary, to say the least: two works for solo piano, one for four hands, and two more for flute and piano - with all parts played by Haid! The recording is obviously a digital contrivance of sorts: 'mixing' is not a term that endears a CD of art music to prospective buyers, but aside from that, it is difficult not to admire Haid's genial performances. She trained first as a pianist, but her CV in both instrumental areas is impressive, even if this is her first, and to date last, commercial recording. Previously US-based, Haid is now apparently working as a teacher of ESL and Italian in Italy, as well as reviewing concerts there and occasionally performing with flute or piano.

Musically speaking, this disc, originally released in 2001 and again in 2006, is more attractive than compelling, but as a curiosity in more ways than one - Haid's multiple performances and the fact that this is the only CD of Gieseking as a composer - it is worth anyone's consideration.

Sound quality is very good, although many will find the flute too far forward relative to the piano, and therefore tending at times towards stridency of tone. On its own the piano too is closely miked, giving a cosy fireside effect.

Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk

More attractive than compelling worth anyone's consideration as a curiosity.