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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2014
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fantasia, op. 77 (1809) [9:16]
Joseph Moog (piano)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Das Sterbeglöcklein (1827, (arr. Liszt, 1846) [6:34]
Luiza Borac (piano)
Pierre J. ZIMMERMAN (1785-1853)
Variations sur une Romance favorite de Blangini, op. 7 (1817) [8:49]
Élie Miriam DELABORDE (1839-1913)
Étude d'après une petite Valse de V. Dolmetsch (1889) [3:33]
Vincenzo Maltempo (piano)
Wim Statius MULLER (b.1930)
Nostalgia-Waltz, op.2 no. 22 [1:49]
Ernest WALKER (1870-1949)
Study for the left hand alone, op. 47 (1931) [5:07]
Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Fragment (1920) [2:03]
Piano-Rag-Music (1919) [3:13]
Stefan WOLPE (1902-72)
Rag-Caprice (1927) [1:04]
Andrew Zolinsky (piano)
Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Primavera, op. 39 no. 3 (1923) [3:08]
Mark Viner (piano)
Felix GUERRERO (1917-2001)
Suite havanaise [13:57]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
The broken little music-box (1931) [3:08]
Ernesto LECUONA (1896-1963)
Siempre esta en mi Corazon [2:24]
Mazurka glissando [1:31]
Jorge Luis Prats (piano)
rec. 2014, Husum Festival, Husum, Germany

The CD opens with Joseph Moog’s stunning performance of Beethoven’s Fantasia, op. 77 which was composed around 1809. The liner-notes suggest that this is a ‘little-known work which is hardly ever played.’ Whilst I accept its relative unpopularity (there are only 21 recordings of this piece listed on Arkiv, as opposed to 262 for the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata) I do not feel that it is actually quite so rare. Yet, I was delighted to hear it again on this disc.

Franz Liszt’s transcription (1846) of Franz Schubert’s lieder ‘Das Sterbeglöcklein’ (also known as Das Zügenglöcklein) is a lovely, if melancholy and compassionate, reflection on the human response to death represented by a technically complex tolling of a bell counter-poising the original song melody. Schubert’s song, a setting of words by Johann Gabriel Seidl was published in 1827, the year before the composer’s death. Luiza Borac plays this little gem to perfection.

I have never heard of Pierre J. Zimmerman before reviewing this CD. Born in Paris in 1785 he was a pianist, composer and teacher. His well-known pupils included Charles-Valentin Alkan, César Franck, Georges Bizet and Charles Gounod. The present ‘Variations sur une Romance favorite de Blangini’, op. 7, played so well by Vincenzo Maltempo, was written in 1809 and dedicated to the pianist and composer J.B. Cramer. It takes the form of an introduction, a theme, a set of technically difficult variations and a long coda. This is an immediately approachable work that demands to be in the repertoire.

Élie Miriam Delaborde is another composer who has passed me by. He was possibly the illegitimate son of Alkan, who also taught him piano. The liner-notes explain one of his eccentricities – he kept more than a hundred parrots and two apes as pets. During the Franco-Prussian War Delaborde escaped to London, compete with his menagerie. He spent much of his career touring with Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski. Delaborde was a well-known figure in the intellectual circles of his day and counted Edouard Manet and Ivan Turgenev as friends. He is regarded as a minor composer, with a handful of operas, a piano quintet and a number of piano pieces to his credit. The present Étude is a reworking of a Petite Valse (no.3 of his fifteen op.3 pieces) by Victor Dolmetsch. Maltempo reveals perfectly the romantically ‘souped-up’ nature of this arrangement. Finally, the notes point out that Alkan wrote a piece for his son entitled Funeral March for a Parrot. It is a wayward (far-out?) piece that predates Monty Python by many years.

Wim Statius Muller’s ‘Nostalgia Waltz’ does what it says ‘on the tin’ - sentimentality. No date is given, but something tells me that this confection was composed in the nineteen-fifties. Muller was born in Curaçao in the Netherland Antilles and worked in the USA, Holland and in his native land. The present work gives good evidence for his nickname of ‘Curaçao’s Chopin’.

My major discovery on this CD was the only piece by a British composer – Ernest Walker’s heartbreakingly, beautiful Study (not a Prelude as given in the notes) for the left hand alone, op. 47 (1931). Better known for his seminal A History of Music in England, Walker was a composer, organist and pianist. The present work was one of three written for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm during the First World War. The Study is deeply felt, largely exploiting the lower registers of the piano and demanding a good legato technique. It is movingly played here by Hiroaki Takenouchi. Finally, out of interest, Walker’s other Wittgenstein pieces were Prelude (Larghetto), op. 61 (1935) and the Variations on an Original Theme, for piano, clarinet and string trio (1933).

I have not heard Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Fragment’ (1920) before, but it sounded familiar. In fact, it is a ‘transcription’ of part of the composer’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments which was composed in 1920 and dedicated to Claude Debussy. The final movement, or more correctly ‘episode’, of this work is a very slow ‘Choral’. In spite of the ‘Symphonies’ being derided at its London premiere, this work is now regarded as being a formative early example of neo-classicism. The ‘transcription’ seemingly came first. It was part of a joint publication Le Tombeau de Debussy written for piano. This included short pieces by Goossens, Ravel, Dukas, Bartók and de Falla.

The Piano Rag Music (1919) needs little introduction. This dynamic piece featuring syncopation and rapidly changing time signatures is well known. However, any unwary listeners who expect to hear pastiche Scott Joplin may be disappointed. This is ragtime seen through the eyes of a ‘cubist’. It is a deconstructed piece of music that also makes use of more traditional pianistic devices such as bitonality and ostinato. Both Stravinsky pieces are well played by Andrew Zolinsky.

Zolinsky’s other contribution to this disc is the Stefan Wolpe’s ‘Rag Caprice’. This was composed seven or eight years after Stravinsky’s example. It is even more modernistic in tone with ‘biting dissonances’ and an up-tempo delivery. In Wolpe’s case it is popular music seen through the eyes of a serial composer who was strongly influenced by both jazz and Webern.

I enjoyed Nicolai Medtner’s Primavera, op.39, no.3 which is taken from the second cycle of Forgotten Melodies. Unfortunately, Medtner is often overlooked in favour of Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Yet his contribution to the piano repertoire is immense with some 14 sonatas, 33 Folk-Tales and many character pieces. His inventive music is imbued with craftsmanship and a classical poise which contrasts with Rachmaninov’s powerful romanticism. The British pianist, Mark Viner gives a superb account of this beautiful piece.

The final extract from the festival features the Cuban pianist Jorge Luis Prats. Unsurprisingly his selection included four Latin American pieces.

Felix Guerrero, a fellow countryman was versed in Hispanic and Cuban musical styles as well as the broader pianistic tradition. His adorable Suite havanaise was assembled by Prats from a number of pieces after the composer’s death. It is a delightful tribute.

Prats included the fourth Bachianas Brasileras in his recital: the present ‘The broken little music-box’ was given as an encore. It is an attractive tinkling little piece that has just the right amount of sentimentality.

Ernesto Lecuona is another Cuban composer. The ‘Siempre esta en mi Corazon’ (You are always in my heart) is given the full ‘cocktail-lounge’ treatment. I am not sure if this transcription is by the composer, Prats or person unnamed. It is pure romance. The last piece, also by Lecuona is a Mazurka glissando, which has been tinkered with by the pianist to make it even more ‘spectacular’. Short and sweet, it makes a perfect encore.

It goes without saying that all the performances here are second to none. The sound quality is excellent, bearing in mind that it was recorded with an audience in attendance. Here and there the editors have left in the applause, which I think adds to the atmosphere of the event. The liner-notes by Peter Grove are detailed: they discuss the composers — where they are less well known — and the music.

My only gripe about this CD is that this is a selection: much beautiful, fascinating and interesting music and many stunning performances have clearly been omitted. Nevertheless a selection had to be made. Once again Danacord has produced a winner with this yearly edition of ‘highlights’ of the Husum Music Festival. It will appeal to all lovers of piano music as well as listeners who indulge in hunting out obscure — but eminently worthy — music.

John France



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