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Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882 - 1948)
Piano Music
Wiener Tänze nach motiven von Eduard Gärtner [21:33]
Klavierstücke, Op. 27 [11:37]
Strophes, Op. 71 [9:40]
Stimmungen, Op. 79 [15:06]
Preludes, Op. 61 [6:09]
Joseph Banowetz (piano)
rec. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Buffalo, New York, 16–20 January 2012
GRAND PIANO GP711 [64:20]

Ignaz Friedman was in his day, considered one of the greatest of the virtuoso pianists. Therefore, it is sad to relate that relatively few of his recordings have been issued commercially; Naxos put together a series of five CDs of his recordings which included music by Mendelssohn, Chopin and Beethoven as well as a few other smaller works (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3 ~ Volume 4). His piano works are to be found sharing a Toccata disc with music by Gabrilowitsch and Levitzki (review). In addition, some of his early piano rolls have been released on the "Grand Piano" series, including some of his own works which have also been recorded here (review review). As you can gather from this, it also transpires that Friedman was a composer who wrote over ninety works, many of them for solo piano. There are only two other modern discs I can think of devoted entirely to his compositions. The first is a fantastic CD played by Valerie Tryon on the APR label entitled “Ignaz Friedman, volume 1” (APR5592); sadly there never was a volume 2. The second is by Peter Froundjian on Etcetera (KTC1117) which duplicates only two of the works on this new disc on Grand Piano. I would also point out that almost all of the pieces on the present disc receive their first recordings here.

The first half dozen tracks are transcriptions of little pieces by the composer Eduard Gärtner, who was the Viennese court baritone. Each of these is dedicated to a different friend of Friedman. Charming little pieces, generally in ternary form, they bounce along nicely as befits the waltz title. There are some interesting key changes especially in nos. 2, 3 and 5; the latter here receives its premiere recording. In terms of style, these works remind me of Godowsky’s Waltz Poems which date from a similar time. There is a general air of perfumed elegance found here. In the first minute or so of the fourth of these pieces this is especially apparent. As for No. 5 it counts as an undiscovered gem. These pieces are not taxing to listen to. There are no uncomfortable clashes or blaring atonalities. They are played with just enough of a whiff of nonchalance; the pedalling and phrasing throughout are spot-on. There is much more here than initially meets the ear.

The slightly earlier Klavierstücke, Op. 27 have more in common with the earlier generation of composers so there are echoes of Brahms, Schumann, Grieg and Chopin. The first is a really evocative little prologue, marked Andante, molto tranquillo and it is certainly all of these. The central section of this is especially nice with a yearning theme which contrasts nicely with the slightly more agitated Schumannesque outer parts. Next follows an introspective Andantino which has a delicate quality and simplicity which is refreshing. The notes describe this as Scriabin-like but I would qualify this by saying early Scriabin which was much influenced by Chopin. This is a wonderful little piece. The third of the set is much more energetic, being a charming and quite complex little mazurka, rather like Chopin hybridised with Scriabin with some virtuosity required at the end. The last of the set is a folk piece and is much darker with more unusual harmonies. The ending of this little piece dissolves into nothing in a most interesting way.

Next follow the five short pieces entitled Strophes, Op.71 and dating from 1917. Here again there is much reverence for the composers of the past. The first is very much in the style of a folk piece, slightly melancholic and with hints of Grieg. The middle part, from 00:45 is a little more cheerful before the piece finishes quietly. The second sounds almost like a cast-off written by Schumann. It has the sort of momentum found in his Toccata, Op.7 with lots of tremolandos and repeated notes as well as surges from the bass; wonderful stuff. The third of the set is a short Andantino with lots of romantic-sounding writing. It lasts just over a minute. Next follows an introspective little Andante which is also slightly creepy. The tune in the base is accompanied by the right hand high up in the treble with some disquieting harmonic touches, especially at the end. The last of the set is expressive and rather charming with plenty of interplay between right and left hands. The central section, around a minute in, is more difficult but is a lovely variation on the theme heard at the outset. All these pieces are well worth hearing and exhibit the same sort of elegance found in the Wiener Tänze nach motiven von Eduard Gärtner (tracks 1 – 6).

The Stimmungen, Op.79 date from the year following the Strophes and are in a similar style. These comprise nine short and very short pieces in a variety of moods. Almost all are recorded here for the first time. As the excellent cover essay says, the first of the set starts off with a few notes which are a direct quotation from Chopin, from the Prelude Op.28 no.4 in E minor. However, the music goes off in an entirely different direction after that. This is a solemn little tune with some interesting key changes and Russian sounding interludes. The notes say Rachmaninov and I would agree with this assessment. Next follows a bouncing Vivace lasting under a minute. This is a strange little piece that drifts off into silence. No. 3 is very evocative with echoes of Grieg and Chopin - a charming sinuous tune winds in between the hands in a semi-impressionistic way with lots of echo effects. The fourth is an Andante and is rather more like Scriabin and Godowsky with some disquieting harmonies but the mood is still cheerful overall. The fifth of this brief set is a Ländler with a sense of inward-looking and more slightly odd harmonies before resolving nicely. Piece No. 6 is an oddity. It sounds like a Chopin prelude gone wrong but in a very interesting and wayward way. No.7 sounds like a slowed down Chopin etude, with some interesting smiley harmonies. The eighth piece has the kind of momentum found in the stormier of the Chopin preludes with plenty of difficult finger-work for the pianist, especially in the bass. The last piece is a mysterious little Andante, marked ‘con tristezza’. This sounds vaguely Russian in character and is less cheerful than some of the other pieces. There is a whiff of melancholy throughout.

The final pieces here are also first recordings and are of the Op. 61 Preludes, dating from 1915. All of these are very short, lasting from just under a minute and a half to one minute and three quarters. The first of these sounds like Rachmaninov with a typically Russian theme and some very thoughtful accompaniment. The following Vivo is care-free with a “question and answer” sort of tune throughout, passing from one hand to the other. The third piece is another happy little piece sounding like an excised section from a late Liszt piece but with added harmonies and layers of sound. The last piece is cut from the same cloth but sounding more like Schumann than anyone else. There is a restless sense of momentum here and a lot of difficult notation.

All of the pieces here are impeccably recorded and played. Over his career, Joseph Banowetz has made many recordings and he sounds very much at home in this repertoire. The recorded sound is perfectly balanced, the notes are excellent and informative and the whole enterprise is well put together. It’s certainly a disc for those who favour out of the way early twentieth century piano music and perhaps those who are familiar with works by Godowsky. There is a similar perfumed elegance found in much of the music here.

Jonathan Welsh

Full track-listing
6 Wiener Tänze nach motiven von Eduard Gärtner
No. 1. Tempo di Valse lente [3:48]
No. 2. Vivo e sciolto [3:22]
No. 3. Allegretto [4:04]
No. 4. Langsamer Walzer [4:48]
No. 5. Moderato [3:02]
No. 6. Epilogue: Moderato [2:34]
4 Klavierstücke, Op. 27
No. 1. Prolog: Andante, molto tranquillo [3:46]
No. 2. Geständnis: Andantino, molto espressivo [2:31]
No. 3. Mazurka: Vivo, con grazia [2:30]
No. 4. Im Volkson: Moderato, poco marciale [2:52]
Strophes, Op. 71
No. 1. Non troppo mosso [1:52]
No. 2. Passionato ed agitato [2:13]
No. 3. Andantino [1:15]
No. 4. Andante mesto [1:53]
No. 5. Quasi allegro, con eleganza [2:26]
Stimmungen, Op. 79
No. 1. Poco mosso [1:52]
No. 2. Vivace e volante [0:45]
No. 3. Moderato, sempre largamente [1:48]
No. 4. Andante [2:59]
No. 5. Comodo, Tempo di Ländler [1:04]
No. 6. Andante, pensieroso [1:48]
No. 7. Grazioso e meno mosso [1:09]
No. 8. Appassionato [1:27]
No. 9. Andante, con tristezza [2:18]
4 Preludes, Op. 61
No. 1. Pensieroso [1:43]
No. 2. Vivo e molto leggiero [1:35]
No. 3. Con abandono [1:28]
No. 4. Molto appassionato ed animato [1:28]



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