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Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Five Spanish Dances (arr. Émile Sauret) (c. 1876/79) [15:41]
Four Pieces, Op. 82 (1909) [18:29]
Zwei Concertstücke, Op. 16 [1878]
Suite for two violins, Op. 71 (1903) [17:47]
Étincelles, Op. 36, No. 6 (transcr. Jascha Heifetz: Allegro scherzando (1886/?) [1:33]
Guitarre, Op. 45, No. 2 (transcr. Pablo de Sarasate): Allegro commodo (1888/90) [3:26]
Serenata (arr. Fabian Rehfeld): Andante grazioso (c. 1877/83) [2:13]
Nazrin Rashidova (violins); Daniel Grimwood (piano)
rec. 24-25 October 2014, 20 January 2015, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK
NAXOS 8.573410 [78:26]

At the time of his death in 1925, Moritz Moszkowski was enjoying a considerable international reputation as a composer and pianist. Today his fame largely rests on his Spanish Dances, Op. 12. He was born in Breslau, then in Germany, and known today as Poland’s Wrocław. He came from a wealthy Jewish family of Polish descent. He studied both in Dresden and Berlin, where he joined the staff of Theodore Kullak’s Neue Akademie der Tonkunst at just seventeen staying there over twenty-five years. He was quickly held in high regard as a virtuoso pianist, and was also an accomplished violinist. However, in the 1850s, Moszkowski began to suffer from a nervous condition, which put an end to his performing career, and thenceforth he concentrated his efforts on composition instead. His earliest pieces had been published in the mid-1870s and many were in the popular salon-music style. Now appeared more substantial works, including chamber music, concertos for piano and violin respectively, the three act opera Boabdil, der letzte Maurenkönig (1892), the orchestral suite: From Foreign Lands and his symphonic poem Johanna d’Arc (1876). The present CD features some of Moszkowski’s best-loved works, some in transcriptions by noted violinists of the time, as well as a number of his own original pieces for the instrument. While a good deal of his salon pieces were arranged for numerous different ensembles and solo instruments, in order to make them more accessible to as many keen amateurs as possible, some were solely meant for the professional stage, as virtuosic showpieces.

The Five Spanish Dances are probably the most familiar pieces on the CD, and something that many of us will no doubt have encountered in their original piano four-hand format. French violinist Émile Sauret (1852-1920) was a friend of Moszkowski, and gave them a complete make-over. Wisely Sauret largely assigned the former piano primo (top) part to the violin. This works extremely well and seems a seamless transmutation; Moszkowski was, after all, both a violinist and pianist. No end of double and triple stops, upward and downward leaps, pizzicati and harmonics are all added as effective embellishment. To anyone very familiar with the original, there is hardly an instance where any ‘extra’ actually intrudes – for me there were just a couple of piano figurations in No. 2 (Moderato), in the middle section, when the violin reprises the melody in thirds. Whether you know the pieces intimately or not, it’s highly-entertaining salon music, where all the action is unashamedly in the violin part.

The Four Pieces, Op. 82 each have a character all of their own, which is hardly surprising given that each bears a dedication to a different violinist. Possibly the composer tailored each one for the particular expertise of its intended recipient. They are all original works for the medium, and the set opens with a capricious little number, Les Nymphes for the French violinist Pierre Sechiari. Caprice begins for violin alone, with more than a hint of Bach – this was for the Swiss player Alberto Bachmann, so Moszkowski possibly also took the opportunity for a little fun at the expense of the violinist’s surname. Mélodie was for Israel Mendels, and is a heartfelt outpouring of pure sugar, which the duo despatches with simple sincerity, and where Rashidova’s tone is heard at its best. Humoresque is clearly folk-influenced, and while this does not conjure up any East European connection, given the dedicatee was George Enescu, it would nevertheless make an entertaining encore.

Ballade – the first of the Zwei Concertstücke, Op. 16 – is dedicated to violinist and composer Gustav Hille, while Marianne Stresow, a talented violinist and wife of Philipp Scharwenka, one of Moszkowski’s fellow-students from his time in Berlin, is the dedicatee of its stablemate, Bolero – again cast as a somewhat hybrid Spanish / Polish polonaise like its precursor in the Spanish Dances (No. 5). Both pieces concentrate on the violin’s innate lyrical quality, but are equally demanding from the technical standpoint, and respectively the two longest, and most extended single works on the CD.

The Suite for two violins, Op. 71, is arguably the most interesting work on the CD. Only once in the accompanying literature does it make it clear that Rashidova is playing both violin parts, double-tracked, when it lists her as ‘Violins’ on the back of the jewel case. The opening Allegro energico begins with an almost Bach-like chordal passage from the violin, vaguely bringing to mind the opening of Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto. The second piece (‘Allegro moderato’) casts more than a nod in the direction of Mendelssohn and there are thematic links back to the first piece. In these pieces the balance tends to place each instrument more as the other’s equal, especially where the two violins, by way of some extensive double-stopping, almost suggest the texture of a piano quartet or quintet. Lento assai presents the two violins in long-flowing, contrapuntal lines that simply emanate hushed reverence. The final piece, Molto vivace, lives up to its name, and provides an effective and lively finale to the Suite as a whole, especially in its closing gallop to the finish.

The last three offerings on the CD return to arrangements rather than original works for the medium. The first is Jascha Heifetz’s revamping of Étincelles, Op. 36, No. 6 (‘Sparks’) and possibly the least effective track recorded. Knowing the piece intimately in its original piano-solo format, the various accretions Heifetz has inserted do rather vary from effective to obtrusive, and frankly the original still comes off better. As an arranger, it is often challenging not to be too clever at times, and I feel Heifetz occasionally has been, to the slight detriment of the composer himself. In her sleeve-note Katy Hamilton says that Heifetz transforms the ‘relatively lengthy ‘Sparks’ for solo piano into a more compact … showpiece’. Stephen Hough plays the original in 2:52 (Hyperion CDA67043), and Heifetz has cropped it by some eighty seconds, by cutting a repeat, and shortening a section which then rather unbalances things. Give me Moszkowski’s original over Heifetz’s partial carvery every time.

Pablo de Sarasate published his arrangement of Guitarre, Op. 45, No. 2 just two years after Moszkowski’s piano original had appeared. This is a far more effective realisation, that sounds as natural in its new guise as its predecessor did earlier. Highly-regarded Berlin-based violinist Fabian Rehfeld provides a faithful, no-frills arrangement of the piano Serenata, a piece that Moszkowski also prepared in versions for cello and piano, string quartet, and even orchestra – a pleasant lyrical melody spun over a simple accompaniment.

By the time the composer died in 1925, much of his music was beginning to fade from the memories of those who had once played it so enthusiastically. Pianist Francesco Berger wrote in the Monthly Musical Record (April 1925): ‘Moszkowski dead! So painful an announcement has not stricken the entire musical world since the deaths of Chopin, Rubinstein, and Liszt, of whom he was the worthy successor.’ If this eulogy was based solely on Moszkowski being considered the most successful composer of salon music of the present day, at the turn of the twentieth century, then Berger’s words could seem a tad less overhype.

Stylistically Rashidova proves an ideal exponent, with the necessary technical prowess to make light work of the difficulties, while never losing sight of the music itself. It is essentially salon music, but expertly-written as such, and Rashidova treats it with due respect throughout. Even though the otherwise excellent recording tends to favour the violin, and the piano is largely in accompanying mode, at times, and especially on the rare occasions where the piano actually has the main business, Daniel Grimwood might have projected himself more on the proceedings rather than seeming to hold back. After all, the chips are already heavily stacked against the piano part, so it ought, perhaps, to have been a case of ‘carpe diem’ whenever you can.

It did slightly let the side down that of the fifteen or so mentions of the composer’s name, three instances are incorrectly spelt, and one of these is the main heading on the first page of the sleeve-notes proper. Notwithstanding this, it emerges as a highly-enjoyable, uncomplicated, and decidedly easy-on-the-ear CD – and certainly very hard to resist with its bargain price-tag.

Philip R Buttall

 

 




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