The novelty in this release is two works by the famed theorist Heinrich Schenker. In the promotional material with the disc the performances are noted as the first professional recordings of these works by Schenker. I assume then that at least one other disc has been released, albeit on a ‘non-professional’ basis.
Schenker did compose but he didn’t compose much. From around 1900, when he was thirty-two, he devoted himself to the task of becoming even more Schenkerian than before. Thus began his best known incarnation as a theoretician and editor of wide influence and significance. Yet he had studied composition and piano in Vienna from 1887 and composers ranging from d’Albert and Busoni to Brahms had commented favourably on his music. It was the fate of the last named, however, that sealed the end of Schenker’s compositional life: ‘I composed quite a lot when I was young and my works were successful; however, when I saw how Brahms was misunderstood I was so saddened that I dropped everything and began to write my theoretical works’.
The Five Piano Pieces
were composed in 1898 and were dedicated to d’Albert. They’re taut character studies, moving adroitly from flowing lyricism to more portentous phraseology, as in the case of the opening piece. The second embraces writing that is alternately dainty and even Schubertian, in places, with baroque-tinged trills and a more assertive climax. The central piece is burnished, warm, melancholy and reflective - a fin de siècle romantic statement. The Fourth is much more freely lyrical with hints of Brahms in the more turbulent passages, as is the case with the urgent Fifth as well. The Op.5 Inventions
, of which we hear Numbers 1 and 3 reveal his intimate accommodation with the music of Bach. The first is a touch academic but No.3, much shorter, is highly effective also. Nevertheless, there’s barely three minutes of Schenker in these pieces.
The performer here, whose name I’ve not mentioned thus far, is Dirk Joeres who studied piano extensively and whose career as an executant many will still remember. That said, he has long since been best known as a conductor, one whose recordings with the Royal Philharmonic and West German Sinfonia have been well received, so it may be surprising to see him play the piano music of Schenker and Brahms when his most internationally established position is probably as a promoter of Brahms’s orchestral works (review
). Still, he is a musician who likes to make connections and to innovate in his concert-giving. Conjoining Schenker and Brahms in this way is certainly useful, at least inasmuch as it reflects just how indebted to the older musician Schenker was.
Joeres plays all Op.118 and 119 of Brahms, adding two of the Op.116 set for good measure. He plays with warmth and sensitivity, notably the con grazia
of the fifth intermezzo of Op.116, and is a touch more interventionist than the classic DG Kempff recording of the first of Op.118. He takes his time over the succeeding Intermezzo
from this set, preferring richness over clarity and maybe he’s just a touch robust in the Ballade, No.3. He takes fine tempi in the Op.119 set and characterises them adroitly.
In strict timing terms less than a third of this disc is devoted to the music of Schenker - just short of twenty-minutes. It’s valuable to hear but only vital to hear, I’d have thought, if you have a particular interest in matters Schenkerian.