Hans von BÜLOW (1830-1894)
Ballade, Op. 11 (1854) [13:55]; Carnavale di Milano, Op. 21 (1871) [45:23]; La Certa, Op. 27 (1879) [5:44]; Marche héroïque, Op. 3 (1853) [14:23]
Mark Anderson (piano)
rec. 4-5 April. 1 August 2011, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth.
NIMBUS NI 5876 [79:30]
Hans (Guido) von Bülow was one of the nineteenth century musical elite. He was a student of Liszt and a friend of Wagner, conducting the premieres of Tristan and Isolde and The Mastersingers of Nuremburg. Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto was dedicated to him.
It’s as a pianist-composer that we encounter him in this disc. His Ballade was written in 1854, a brooding Lisztian narrative with Wagnerian harmonic undertow. The elasticity of its design is highly effective, and so too are the powerful chordal flourishes and rhetorical directions of the music. It’s an assured work, not quite distinctively personal, one feels, but well worth getting to know. The one long central work around which the programme satellites is Carnavale di Milano, written in 1871. Its inspiration is balletic, namely the ballerina Elvira Salvoni, for whom the composer clearly felt what the notes call (perhaps coyly?) ‘admiration’. He certainly had a considerable amount of admiration, given that his piece is symphonic in length. Nevertheless he captures in sound her ‘stage persona’ in a series of tableaux of really rather delightful charm and also, let it be admitted, decided technical difficulty.
There are ten ‘scenes’ and they take in a near-Chopinesque Polacca and a frolicsome, rather naughty Intermezzo fantastico. The flirty rhythms here hint at the ballerina’s pert and suggestive personality. There’s a genial and charming Mazurka, and affectionate Intermezzo lirico, tinged with a discernable tristesse and then a mercurial and witty Tarantella. These dances are vested with considerable drive and drama and not a little panache. All these qualities are conveyed with rich vitality and sensitivity by Mark Anderson. His scrupulous intelligence and digital command are a pleasure to hear.
To finish his programme we have La certa (the lizard) which sounds exceptionally difficult pianistically, and is full of appropriately darting feints, though it has plenty of refinement and elegance too. Then there is Marche héroïque, a work he was later to disown. It was commissioned in Pest in 1853 by a music publisher there and von Bülow included themes from a popular opera of the time by Ferenc Erkel. These themes are stirring, noble and full of witty drum-rolls and the composer can’t resist a couple of ‘sentimental’ little passages. It’s true that it’s an occasional and flashy piece of entertainment — von Bülow even called it ‘a wretched piece’ — but it’s enjoyable, all the same.
Once again Anderson delivers the goods in a rip-roaring way and he has been excellently recorded.
Jonathan Woolf

Anderson delivers the goods in a rip-roaring way.