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Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932) Piano Music - Volume 2 Phantasiestücken, Op. 5 (1871) [21:32] Neckens Polska Variationen, Op. 11 (1874) [17:55] Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 10 (1875) [29:13]
Mark Anderson (piano)
rec. May 2014 (Neckens Polska) and July 2015 (Phantasiestücken and Sonata), Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK NIMBUS NI5937 [68:50]
Here are three substantial keyboard works from the young Julius Röntgen in lively performances.
Röntgen was a composer of a prodigious amount of music in most genres save opera. Son of the Gewandhaus concertmaster, he wrote throughout his career, most of which was spent in Amsterdam. Late in life he increased his pace, producing a vast number of symphonies and chamber pieces in the 1920s. His music was old-fashioned, sticking to a late-romantic style just as this was being cast aside by younger composers. We are now distant enough from the aesthetic battles of the early twentieth century for interest in Röntgen’s music to increase. We can recognize that his are well-crafted, melodious, often imaginative works whose only drawback was to have been written a generation too late. Nearly a hundred of his works have now been recorded.
At nearly half an hour, the Second Piano Sonata is the longest work on the disc. It is a big-scale, romantic production in four movements. A rather placid opening movement in triple time is evocative of Beethoven. The sonata grows in intensity through a scherzo and Andante cantabile, with an Allegro con fuoco that closes the sonata with much greater energy than its tranquillo first movement.
The Phantasiestücken form a cycle of seven short pieces, opening and ending with a dramatic syncopated theme that hops about most winningly. Among the appeals of the cycle are an elfin Presto, a songful Andante con moto and a teasing waltz.
Neckens Polska, or The Watersprite, offers a set of nine variations on a Swedish folk-song, written when Röntgen met his future wife, a Swedish violinist. Röntgen gets a lot out of an innocuous little theme, uncovering its fiercest aspects before the piece ends rather quietly. This finely crafted and engaging piece is probably the strongest work on the disc.
American pianist Mark Anderson is a fine guide to these unknown compositions. He invests them with both seriousness of purpose and lightness of touch. He also wrote the notes for the CD booklet and these show how deeply he has entered Röntgen’s world. This is the second volume of a series; reviews of volume 1 can be found here and here. Röntgen wrote around a hundred piano works, so presumably there will be several more discs to come.
The Röntgen renaissance is a source of great pleasure to many music-lovers. It poses some challenges, however. Unlike his friend, Brahms, Röntgen seems not to have been very strict about pruning his compositions. The best of Röntgen’s works can sometimes make one imagine discovering a hidden stash of long-lost Brahms. The Piano Concerto no. 2, the A minor Violin Concerto, and the Op. 41 Cello Sonata all have that ardent “Brahmsoid” quality.
I wanted these piano works to be unknown masterpieces; instead, they offer quieter pleasures. Like much of Röntgen, they are high-toned and dignified, melodious but never vulgar. They are well-crafted and intellectually curious, and there is nothing wrong with that.