Herman GROENEWEGEN (b.1960)
24 Preludes for Piano [56:25]
Andrew Clark (piano)
rec. 5-8 February 2014, De Westvest, Schiedam, The Netherlands
Private release [56:25]

Herman Groenewegen wrote this cycle of 24 piano preludes between December 2012 and May 2013. He’s a self-taught pianist and composer, his formal teaching only in flute performance. His real teaching, however, is in listening to past-masters like Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Rachmaninov, and Tchaikovsky.

That’s clear from the music. Groenewegen wrote the cycle in homage to Chopin, but many other composers keep popping in: the fifth prelude’s huge, expansive, strangely optimistic chords call to mind Brahms, while the first prelude has the nervous lyrical energy of Rachmaninov’s preludes. No. 3 sounds a little jazzy, or maybe like an English folk dance as transcribed by Malcolm Arnold. No. 8 is like a youthful Chopin mazurka. There are more than a few references to baroque forms and Bach: No. 13 is for left hand alone and clearly based on the cello suites.

If the musical language all sounds very old, it is. These preludes are centered on quality old-fashioned tunes, with hardly any dissonance at all, and no reference to the darker advances of twentieth century style. They don’t even approach the melancholy harmonic strangeness of most Chopin. What’s new is hearing all those old voices together, in such rapid succession. Herman Groenewegen has seemingly digested all music history until 1905, and then mixed it together to produce these miniatures. Although many are in minor keys, they are not particularly threatening or emotional.

The booklet notes are entirely in Dutch, but the website is available in English, and includes samples of each track. You have the option to purchase the disc or the sheet music (PDF), which is cheaper. Groenewegen is encouraging home performance, since this is within reach of most fairly talented home pianists. The disc is well-performed by Andrew Clark, certainly enough to give you a very good idea of the music at its best, and very professionally engineered too.

Ultimately you must decide if this music is for you. If you want something nice to practice at home, this is a great option. If you wish people still wrote the way that Bach, Weber, Moszkowski and Anton Rubinstein did, then your wish is granted. If you need something with the emotional depth, challenges or strange languages of Scriabin, the modernists or even Chopin himself, look elsewhere.

Brian Reinhart