Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss von Husum 2015
rec. 21-29 August 2015, Schloss von Husum DANACORD DACOCD779 [74:37]
The latest annual offering from the festival of piano
music at Schloss von Husum gets off to an interesting start (see the
Danacord review index
for previous releases). I wonder how many recordings there are of Harold
Craxton’s music? I guess precious few. Craxton is a name that
is usually remembered in connection with the Associated Board (AB).
Not only did he compose a number of ‘teaching pieces’ but
he was the ‘assistant’ editor of the monumental three-volume
AB edition of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. The editor in chief was
Donald Tovey. Craxton was also interested in early music and published
a number of transcriptions of this music. He was a concert pianist in
his own right, as well as a teacher. His pupils included Denis Matthews,
Peter Katin and Noel Mewton-Wood. The present Siciliano and
Rigadon were ‘freely’ transcribed in 1935. It is
difficult to know how much of this music is original - by either Craxton
or ‘Anon’. Whatever the provenance, this is an attractive
little work that is timeless in its sound world. It is played convincingly
by Jonathan Plowright. I hope that one day some enterprising pianist
will make a retrospective selection of Craxton’s ‘original’
Fauré, Ravel and Debussy are often cited as being exemplars for the
music of Federico Mompou. Certainly, the delicate Segreto (1912)
played by Plowright is good example of his intimate and impressionistic
style. Jonathan Powell also majors on Mompou’s music, this time
with the La Rue, le Guitariste et le Vieux Cheval dating from
1917. The progress of the music is an impression of a street, a guitarist
and an old horse. It is a lovely evocative number that may nod to Erik
Satie as well as the above mentioned composers.
I have rarely heard the music of Issay Dobrowen. A composer who was
taught by Sergei Taneyev and Leopold Godowsky and is clearly influenced
by Rachmaninov and Scriabin surely demands to be better known. I note
that there is only one other recording of his music listed in the Arkiv
catalogue: The Husum 1991 Festival. There is a review of his Piano Concerto
International (SIMAX PSC 1246) in 2005. Dobrowen wrote much
music including an opera based on A Thousand and One Nights.
There are Concerti for Piano and for Violin. A large amount of his small
output was dedicated to the piano: it includes two sonatas, a set of
studies and numerous miniatures. The Poem op. 3 No. 2, is romantic,
but unsettled, reticent and definitely nodding to Scriabin.
Karol Szymanowski needs little introduction to lovers of piano music.
Over his career he explored a number of styles or periods including
Scriabin, impressionism and atonality. The present Étude is
early and owes its inspiration to Chopin more than to any other architype.
It may be billed as a study, but it is a work of art in its own right.
The technical content which includes cross rhythms and double notes
of various sorts never descends to the merely pedantic, certainly as
played by Yuri Favorin.
I have never really got my head around the piano music of Charles-Valentin
Alkan. I guess that it is just one of those things: we cannot listen
to everything. However, over the years I have heard a few pieces of
his music: I have invariably been impressed. The present work is an
extract from the massive Grande Sonate described by Raymond Lewenthal
‘as the longest since Beethoven’s Hammerklavier
and the strangest before the Ives sonatas.’ The third movement,
is subtitled ’40 years: A Happy Household. This music is restrained
and reflects family life for an aging man (in 1847, 45 was
knocking on), the blessing of children and the efficacy of prayer. Certainly,
Alkan’s music is characterised by length, quantity and difficulty.
I valued Favorin’s thoughtful interpretation of this piece.
The only classical/romantic work on this CD is Florian Uhlig’s
rendition of Hummel’s’ gorgeous La bella capricciosa
[The Capricious Beauty] op.55 (1815). It is a ‘polonaise’
although it opens with a long and occasionally lugubrious introduction.
At about a third of the way through, the polonaise proper begins. It
is an urbane tune that is followed by characteristic scalar passages.
The minor mode gives a little gravitas to the proceedings before the
opening theme re-appears. It ends powerfully in a fusillade of virtuosity.
I am one of those people who enjoy Hummel more than Ludwig van B. (heresy!)
so this was a treat and a pleasure to hear this music played with such
passion, poise and technical competence.
Martin Jones plays La Niña del Rio Dulce by the Argentine composer
Carlos Guastavino. The title does not translate well into English, but
probably implies the ‘Girl by the Purling Stream’ (I stand
to be corrected). It is a lovely little piece that, as the excellent
liner notes point out, was a little ‘retro’ when it was
composed in 1955. This is a little tone-poem that is satisfying and
evocative. It is the first of Three New Romances. Martin Jones
has recorded the complete works of Carlos Guastavino on Nimbus 5818-20
Cyprien Katsaris’ Spontaneous improvisation on various themes
(Hommage à Liszt) is impressive. Improvisation is not a feature
of piano recitals these days, though it still holds its own in the organ
loft. Katsaris’ previous offering on the festival programme had
been a piano solo version of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.2 which
apparently managed to combine the solo part and piano reduction of the
orchestral part for just two hands: Sounds impossible! The ‘Spontaneous
improvisation’ selects a variety of tunes from Liszt’s corpus
of piano music and weaves them into a gigantic piece – thirteen
minutes long. It is a kind of pot-pourri of themes and pianistic
devices. Although I recognize the skill and technique here, I am not
sure about the concept. My jury is out on this one.
Alexander Zfasman was a Soviet pianist and composer who looked to the
West for his inspiration. The Fantasy plays around with ‘classic’
‘stride’ piano idioms and Charleston rhythms. Although jazz
was not completely banned in the USSR, it was regarded with suspicion.
The irony of the Fantasy on themes of Matvey Blanter (1903-90)
is that the underlying tunes were produced by a composer who once wrote
jazz, then dutifully toed the party line and turned to ‘patriotic
songs.’ Alex Hassan gives a wonderful performance of this piece:
it surely demands to be in the piano repertoire.
Jonathan Plowright ‘gets on down’ in the final track on
this CD. Bumble Boogie is a rip-roaring take-off of Rimsky-Korsakov’s
Flight of the Bumble Bee devised by the band leader and composer
Jack Fina. It was used in the Walt Disney Film Melody Time
which was a sequel to the ground-breaking ‘Fantasia’. It
even made it into the charts in 1961 by a group called B. Bumble and
the Stingers. YouTube
also has a video of Liberace playing this work (he could play well,
even if he was somewhat outré! An entertainer rather than a classicist).
I really do not need to sum up. This is a fine CD that introduces a
number of rare piano pieces: just as it says ‘on the tin’.
A glance at the pianists will obviate the need for a glowing critique
of the performances: it is taken as read. The Danacord label always
guarantees a pristine recording and excellent liner notes. All I can
say is that I look forward to reviewing the 2016 Festival excerpts.
And finally, could next year’s offering please be a ‘doubler’?
Disc contents Harold CRAXTON (1885-1971)
Siciliano and Rigadon (1935) [3:38] Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Segreto (1912) [2:39]
Jonathan Plowright (piano) Federico MOMPOU
La Rue, le Guitariste et le Vieux Cheval from ‘Suburbis.’
(1917) [4:03] Issay DOBROWEN (1891-1953)
Poem op. 3 No. 2 (1914) [2:36]
Jonathan Powell (piano) Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Étude op. 4 No. 1 (1906) [4:00] Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)
40 ans – ‘Un heureux ménage’ from Grande Sonate op.
33 (1847) [10:43]
Yuri Favorin (piano) Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
La bella capricciosa op. 55 (1815) [12:22]
Florian Uhlig (piano) Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000)
La Niña del Rio Dulce from ‘Tres Romances Nuevos’ (1955)
Martin Jones (piano) Cyprien KATSARIS (b.1951)
Spontaneous improvisation on various themes (‘Hommage à Liszt’)
Cyprien Katsaris (piano) Alexander ZFASMAN (1906-1971)
Fantasy on themes of Matvey Blanter (?) [6:28]
Alex Hassan (piano) Jack FINA (1913-70)
Bumble Boogie (1948) [2:14]