Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a theme by Paganini Op.35 (1862-63) [21:13]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Six Etudes after the caprices of Paganini Op.3 (1835) [17:12]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Six Etudes d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini; Etude No.6 after the 24th Caprice of Paganini S140 (1838) [5:43]
Friedrich Wührer (piano)
rec. 1955
Re-mastered from LP, this short-playing CD captures the Vienna-born Friedrich Wührer (1900-75) in repertoire that is almost comically determined to mine its theme. That theme is Paganini and the alchemical use made of his Caprices by Liszt, Schumann and Brahms. I’m not sure many pianists would espouse such a programme now, but Wührer was an interesting case. He was an associate of Franz Schmidt, whose music he programmed frequently, and he was also closely allied with the Second Viennese School in the 1920s; he performed Schoenberg at a time when most didn’t. He was also sympathetic to Hindemith and Stravinsky, and later on, Pfitzner.
On disc, however, he’s best remembered as a Vox artist - indeed this LP is a 1955 Vox. And here it’s his big Schubert odyssey that is his most enduing legacy - a complete sonata cycle. But he was also a frequent studio presence. His Beethoven Concerto cycle emerged piecemeal and there were four conductors involved; Hans Swarowsky, Walther Davisson, Jonel Perlea, and Heinrich Hollreiser. He joined with the first two in the two Brahms concertos, and he teamed up with Rudolf Moralt for the Dvořák, rather an unlikely vehicle one would have thought. He espoused the second and third Prokofiev concertos too. He had earlier made a handful of 78s of music by Reger, Scriabin, Beethoven and Brahms. If you have been very observant you’ll have noted that the Bearac label offered the Schubert sonata material on its site, though I can’t claim any acquaintance with it.
The matter in hand here, however, reveals both his virtuosity and his single-minded musicianship - unflashy, rigorous, intellectual, and convincing. Backhaus, Anda and Petri were some of the most famous exponents of the Brahms Variations on disc, later to be followed by such as Katchen. Michelangeli’s famous recording, which predates Wührer’s, is both re-ordered and cut. Wührer offers an intense sonic experience, powerful and even passionate in places, and technically excellent. Similar qualities are to be heard in the companion Schumann Etudes He plays the six with great concentration and power, and with considerable reserves of tonal weight. He was most certainly not a dainty pianist, and examples of capricious or light-hearted musicianship are not often to be encountered in his discography. But, as in the Etudes based on the eleventh and thirteenth caprices, he can certainly lighten his tone, and rhythmic flexibility is also to be heard. The final Liszt cements the Paganinian exploration with almost wilful, intellectual completeness.
I’ve not heard Vogue 672001 which contains the Brahms, coupled with the Op.117 Intermezzi and a live, not studio, Schubert D784 Sonata.
It wasn’t coincidence that Wührer was included in Naxos’s 4 CD A-Z of Pianists. His musicianship was formidable, and this restoration demonstrates that very clearly. At 44 minutes in length and given the recording date, though, this is one for the confirmed admirer.
Jonathan Woolf
Formidable musicianship but at 44 minutes this disc is one for the confirmed admirer.