The first half of this latest retrospective from Husum (2013) is dedicated to Scandinavian music. The CD opens with the ‘Dance from Jølster’ from Grieg’s relatively rarely heard 25 Norwegian Dances, Op.25. This is followed by Geirr Tveitt’s relaxed and thoughtful ‘Arvesylv’ (Family Silver) which is one of a number of works reconstructed after a devastating fire at the Norwegian composer’s home. Christian Sinding is universally recalled for his ‘Rustle of Spring’ however he was a prolific composer who wrote four symphonies and a good piano concerto. The present ‘Impromptu’ is the fourth of his ‘Sechs Stucke’ (Six Pieces) dating from 1896. Formally, this is a rondo with the main ‘agitato’ theme played quietly with some contrasting major key episodes. It is a truly romantic work that will make the listener want to hear more Sinding. Hävard Gimse, a Norwegian pianist, plays these rarities with enthusiasm and obvious skill and engagement.
I do not know any of Sibelius’s piano music: it is just one of those facts of my musical life. Jean-Frédéric Neuberger is a great advocate of the Sonata in F major dating from 1892 which was around the time of the nationalistic Kullervo
Symphony. The work was modelled after Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. This would appear to be a debt of structure rather than of melody or harmony. The clearest influences in the exciting opening ‘allegro molto’ would seem to be Grieg and Schubert. The ‘andantino’ is based on a discarded song from Kullervo
. The finale sounds a wee bit like Brahms and is a powerful tour-de-force. This is a striking work that deserves more than one hearing. It is quite clear that Sibelius was no pianist: much of the instrumental texture sounds ‘orchestral’ with the use of tremolos and the overdoing of left-hand octaves. Neuberger plays this work convincingly in spite of these less than pianistic devices.
In 1907 Jean Sibelius wrote the incidental music for Hjalmar Fredrik Eugen Procopé’s (1868-1927) play Belshazzar’s Feast.
There were originally ten numbers composed for orchestra and voices. Four were extracted and made into a suite by Sibelius. I am not sure who transcribed this work for piano, but it has been successfully done. Certainly Henri Sigfridsson gives an excellent performance. The ‘Oriental Dance’ is truly exotic and really does look to the East. ‘Solitude’ is an atmospheric piece that seems timeless. This mood is continued in ‘Night Music’. The final ‘Khadra’s Dance’ is no ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ in spite of her being bitten by a snake. This simple ternary piece is tight and again evocative of points East of Helsinki.
Ludmil Angelov plays Chopin’s heartbreakingly beautiful posthumous Mazurka in A minor. This is followed by the Chopin-influenced Mazurka in C sharp minor by the Polish composer Aleksander Michalowski. They make an attractive pairing.
Ignaz Friedman was one of the most important twentieth century pianists. Born in Poland in 1882 he was admired for his hugely romantic style of playing. His interpretation of Chopin’s Mazurkas have long been regarded as ‘unequalled’. He composed a number of works including the present Passacaglia. It is a major piece that reveals a deep understanding of keyboard technique reaching ‘Back to Bach’. However its general tenor is romantic and often withdrawn. Extensive use is made of chromatic harmonies, complex left-hand figurations and hammered chords. This beautiful work, played by Sofja Gülbadamova is for the cognoscenti rather than a pot-boiler designed to bring the house down.
Leo Ornstein is one of those composers who I feel I ought to make a better effort at understanding. He was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine in 1895. After study at the St Petersburg Conservatory he made a living as a renowned concert pianist and composer. To a certain extent this fame was exacerbated by his reputation as the ‘wild man’ of piano music. He is often regarded as one of the earliest of the American modernists. His iconic pieces included Danse Sauvage
and Suicide in an Airplane
. After the Great War his music ceased to shock and he withdrew from the concert hall and concentrated on teaching. He was an exceptionally long-lived composer spanning three centuries and a wide range of musical history. He died in 2002, after having given up composing, aged 97.
The present Sonata No.4 was written late and is certainly not at the cutting-edge of the avant-garde. If anything, the models are Ravel, Scriabin and Liszt. There are echoes of what would have been popular songs in the 1920s as well as an undisguised impressionism in the ‘lento’. A complex rondo brings the works to an explosive Scriabinesque close. The performance by Cecile Licad is breath-taking.
The final offering played here by Artur Pizarro are two of Erich von Korngold’s precocious Fairy Tale Pictures
which were published in 1910 when he was only twelve years old. ‘The Princess and the Pea’ makes use of whole-tone scales and ‘advanced’ harmonies. The final picture is a dreamy ‘epilogue’ once again using complex chromaticism but containing one of the most beautiful tunes written by anyone, anytime. How such a young person could have contrived such a wonderful melody is totally beyond me.
The liner-notes by Peter Grove are excellent, giving biographical details about the composers and historical and technical information on each work. The recording is excellent and reflects the ideal acoustics of the Castle at Husum. At nearly 80 minutes of music, this CD is great value.
This is a most thought-provoking selection of music culled from a week of piano music-making at Husum. Each piece is superbly played as even the briefest glance at the performers would lead one to expect. A highly attractive survey of the byways of largely romantic piano music.
Reviews of other releases in this series