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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Four Little Delightful Waltzes (1911) [14:40]
Erich ZEISL (1905-1959)
November; eight miniatures (1937-38) [21:13]
Ernst TOCH (1897-1964)
Scherzo, Op.11 (1904) [5:24]
Profile No.3, Op.68 (1946) [1:17]
Burlesques: Der Jongleur: Op.31 No.3 (1923) [1:54]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Six Little Piano Pieces (1911) [6:51]
Cielo di settembre, Op.1 (1910) [4:47]
Sea Pieces; I Naviganti (Seafarers) (1919) [6:45]
Greeting Cards; Fandango, Op.170 (1954) [4:11]
Eric Le Van (piano)
rec. February 2009, Studio 2, Bavarian Radio, Munich
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1271 [68:18]

The subtitle of this disc narrows things down somewhat; ‘piano music by composers with roots in two continents’. Whether this makes things much clearer, though, is open to doubt. ‘Exile’ makes the point well enough though not all, indeed not many of the works were composed in the New Found Land of America. Four of the composers were Austrian-born and one an Italian. All came to Los Angeles to join the large expatriate community there.
What is useful from a discographic point of view is that quite a few of these piano pieces will be unfamiliar. Korngold’s Four Little Delightful Waltzes were written when he was 14 years old and each named for a particular girl – Korngold being, as ever, precocious in the extreme. One was named after the daughter of the singer Leo Slezak and she turns out to have been charming and graceful if this waltz is anything to go by – indeed she’s loathe to depart at the end, or Korngold is unwilling to let her go. Other waltzes are more pensive, more chromatic, and the last of the four (‘Mitzi’) is treated to a degree of rhythmic instability in her depiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly Korngold’s father forbade publication of this set – and it was only in 1997, the centenary of his birth, that it saw the light of day.
Erich Zeisl wrote his miniature pieces November just a year or so before emigration to America. These modest, lightly characterised klavierstücke don’t seek to emulate the kind of fulsomeness displayed by Korngold – they are more in the way of mood pieces, exuding a light religious air, or elegant warmth, or wistfulness, albeit with a darker character, though never so dark as to suggest true melancholy. There are three contrasting pieces by Ernst Toch. The early 1904 Scherzo sounds very Brahmsian – specifically it seems to recall the B minor Op.79 Rhapsody. Der Jongleur comes from the 1923 set called Burlesques and is quite unashamedly encore fodder, and attractively so. Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces are clearly cut from a different cloth from any of the other works here, and their inclusion does signify a seismic shift. What one can say about this performance, however, is that Eric Le Van plays the third piece (‘Sehr langsame Viertel’) with an unusual degree of warmth. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is represented by a trio of works. Cielo di settembre is particularly attractive, a Turneresque and atmospheric depiction that marked an auspicious Op.1 The one of the three to have been written in America was Fandango from the set called Greeting Cards. Dedicated to Amparo Iturbi, sister of José, it makes for a delightful close.
The booklet is extensive, and has a great deal of detail in English and German. The recording, made in the studio of Bavarian Radio, Munich, is attractive. This is certainly a rather specialised acquisition, as whilst the composers may all have ended up in Los Angeles they largely represented different traditions or explored differing stylistic affinities. Then, too, the pieces come from very different time periods in the five composers’ musical development. But if their names appeal, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, Eric Le Van proves an excellent, and sensitive guide.
Jonathan Woolf