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Géza ZICHY (1849-1924)
Complete Piano Works
Sonate für Pianoforte für die linke Hand [14:45]
Deux Morceaux pour la main gauche seule [5:45]
Quatre Etudes pour la main gauche seule [10:09]
Six Etudes pour la main gauche seule [24:34]
Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. 22 July 2016, Opus Dissonus Studios, Brazil

As I stated in my previous review of Artur Cimirro’s other Zichy disc of transcriptions, this composer is a much neglected figure. It is good that Acte Préalable and Mr. Cimirro have taken the initiative to try to popularise his music. I hope that the listening public will be able to get to know this fascinating figure and his music a little better as a result.

Zichy wasn’t just someone who transcribed works for his own concerts. He was taught by the neglected composer Robert Volkmann, whose works are well worth seeking out; many have been recorded on CPO. He also produced a few original works for piano left hand and for two hands, which appear on the companion disc to this. All the works on this recording are for left hand alone.

The present disc begins with a Sonata - the only example for one hand alone that I have ever come across. The first movement ‘Allegro’ begins quietly with a pretty tune in the bass which slows, gains in power and becomes more complex. There are many incidences of repeated chords which accompany the tune. These obviously make for some difficult playing. In terms of style, there is simplicity to this music which to my ears sounds a little like Dvorak’s piano music. Around 5:30, there is a theme which bears a similarity to part of Liszt’s second symphonic poem – Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo (S96). Unlike some of this composer's music, this does not sound horrifically difficult - although it undoubtedly is, due to using only one hand. There is a charm to this first movement which is continues in the second movement, an ‘Andante serioso’. Here, the piano writing is a little less complicated and has a melancholy air. This movement is also quite short, only just over three minutes, which is a shame as it could easily have been longer. The finale starts off quickly and in a rather jolly way. I am reminded of some of the writing which Alkan used in the first of his Trois Grand Etudes (Op.76) "for the hands separately and then reunited". After the rapid introduction, there is a fun March theme around 1:00 which is again developed into more complex passage-work. This clearly involves a lot of leaping about the keyboard. This is overall a pleasant little sonata in traditional form. It’s not a masterpiece but it has a certain charm and is well worth a listen.

Next follow ‘Deux Morceaux’. Neither is very long and both are in a similar style to the sonata. The opening ‘Divertimento’ is lovely and somewhat reminiscent of a Chopin prelude in substance. Then follows a little Serenade which sounds slightly Spanish and also sounds like there are more than five fingers playing. The initial tune turns into something less serenade-like after about a minute and shortly afterwards switches back to the original tune. The ending is gorgeous and drifts quietly up the keyboard.

Of the Quatre Etudes, none lasts more than three minutes. The first is a virtuoso piece with a very deliberate sounding tune which underpins the piece. The last section sounds as if more than one hand is playing as the initial tune is played with some descending accompanying scales giving an interesting effect. The ending is loud and brash and entirely in keeping. The following ‘Capriccio’ is not particularly capricious to start with but there are hints of this about 2:00 although they do not last very long. The following ‘Allegretto grazioso’ is smoothly played; another affecting little piece, similar to the Sonata. I really like this piece even if some would describe it as ‘Salon Music’ - which is not a term I like to use as to me it sounds derogatory. Lastly there is a sprightly little ‘Wiener Spaß’ which is, in essence, a waltz and translates as “Vienna Pranks”. This is smiley music and guaranteed to make you grin. The middle section is less joyful but the happy bounciness returns to conclude the piece. Again Chopin seems to be an influence here.

The last tracks on this disc are another set of Six Etudes. The first is another little ‘Serenade’ which is more complex than that found in the earlier Morceaux. As with the ‘Wiener Spaß’, there is a waltz-like pulse here which makes for a lilting happy little piece which, as the earlier one, drifts off up the keyboard to finish. The next ‘Allegro vivace’ again sounds as if two hands are playing; there seems to be too much going on for just one. This is a more confident little piece and again is charming and pleasant. In my previous review, I mentioned Zichy’s lovely little ‘Valse d’Adele’ which I know due to Liszt’s marvellous arrangement (S546) and this follows. I’ve been familiar with this piece for years and find it utterly lovely. It is superbly played here. The following ‘Etude’ starts with some flourishes which are extended up the keyboard and the tune picks its way between these. As with the second of these studies, the writing is confident. This is a complex and interesting little piece with plenty of finger work for the pianist to cope with. The surprise ending seems to appear from nowhere. The fifth of these pieces is a Hungarian Rhapsody which perhaps unsurprisingly initially sounds like an arrangement of a piece with the same title by Zichy’s teacher and friend Liszt. Throughout this piece, there are hints of the sixth of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies but there are interconnecting passages which are entirely different. Despite the Hungarian cadences, these bear no resemblance to anything Liszt wrote. The Liszt quotes return later to round off this rather good little piece. We finish with the impossibly difficult arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’ for left hand. Here all four voiced sections of Schubert’s masterpiece are presented with just five fingers. The effect is incredible, not just for the pianist; it also shows off Zichy's considerable powers as an arranger. It is thought that Zichy got the idea of arranging this piece after hearing Liszt’s own transcription (S558 no.4). It's phenomenal stuff.

Obviously, the writing for left hand only is complex and requires a lot of ability in order to project the tune with only five fingers, something which Mr. Cimirro manages perfectly throughout. I would like to see these works played in concert sometime as it would be fascinating to see how he does it. There are no weird key changes or unexpected changes of time signature or anything too disturbing in any of this music. It is also interesting to note that there is not much lop-sidedness here which you might have expected from music written for one hand only. Zichy clearly knew what he was doing with regard to composing.

Overall this makes for an interesting and pleasant hour or so listening for those with a taste for obscure repertoire. It might also be fun to ask listeners if they can identify anything strange about the music and see if they can guess that there is just one hand at work.

Jonathan Welsh



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