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Dora PEJAČEVIĆ (1885-1923)
Piano Works
Nataša Veljković (piano)
rec. 16-19 June and July 28-31 2014 SWR Stuttgart, Kammermusikstudio, Germany
CPO 555 003-2 [79:06 + 78:22]

With the ever-increasing influx of foreign players – especially on the soccer field and tennis court – most of us have come to recognise surnames ending in ‘ić’ as those from the former Yugoslavia, or mainly today’s Serbia and Croatia, where such suffixes are common. Although probably unknown even to the vast majority of musicians, Dora Pejačević (in old documents also Pejacsevich) should, in fact, be considered a major Croatian composer, leaving behind a considerable catalogue of fifty-eight opuses (106 compositions), mostly in late-Romantic style, including songs, piano music, chamber music, and several compositions for large orchestra, arguably her best oeuvre, her Symphony in F sharp minor, being considered the first symphony in Croatian music. Some of her music, though, has yet to be published, although concerted efforts have been made recently to rectify the situation, with the Croatian Music Information Centre publishing some of her scores, including three of her orchestral works – the Piano Concerto, Symphony and Phantasie Concertante. In 2008, they released the first all-Pejačević CD of piano and chamber music.

Pejačević was born in Budapest, a daughter of a Croatian ban — a noble title used in several states in central and south-eastern Europe between the 7th and 20th centuries — and Hungarian Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya, herself a fine pianist, and who gave her daughter her first piano lessons. Pejačević began to compose when she was twelve, and studied music privately in Zagreb, Dresden and Munich, though essentially she remained self-taught.

The piano is the main focus of Pejačević’s output, given that it was the medium in which she was best able to express her musical ideas and to convey the essence of her music – only four of her works, in fact, don’t include the piano. Unlike Clara Schumann, Pejačević wasn’t a pianist as such, so didn’t appear in concerts featuring performances of her solo pieces. Despite this, her gift for keyboard composition, especially as the works from her middle and later periods suggest, does very much correspond to the performance-style of the piano virtuosity of the time. As a rule, any demanding solo part or passage is subservient to the musical idea, and not there for mere dazzle or show. Chronologically, her piano works can be divided into three periods: works of her youth, composed between 1896 and 1900 (the latter date shown incorrectly in the English translation as ‘1990’), cycles of miniatures from her middle period (1903-1912) and compositions from her maturity (1913-1920). The two sonatas occupy a special place in her output since, unlike the many miniatures she contributed, matters of form, and its onward development took a more important role. In the First Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 36 (1915) she fully exploited the conventional format of a traditional three-movement design (Fast-slow-Rondo finale), whereas in the subsequent Second Sonata in A flat major, Op. 57 (1921) she produced arguably one of her greatest achievements – effectively a one-movement sonata-fantasia close to Liszt’s example, of some seventy years earlier.

Fortunately the sleeve-notes are most comprehensive, and with the knowledge that essentially works up to Op. 12 are from her earliest period, the opening work on CD 1 – Blumenleben – comes at the start of Pejačević’s middle period. Immediately there are hints of Schumann, Mendelssohn and Grieg in these eight short pieces, but there is also more than just the usual salon-type rhetoric as each piece almost becomes a metaphor illustrating various stages in life – the chastity of lilies to the intoxication and passion of the rose. Once regarded as one of her best sets of miniatures, they do speak with an individual voice. Following the Second Sonata, mentioned above, the Sechs Fantasiestücke that come right at the start of her middle period display a most considered sense of musical psychology as the composer delineates each of six differing emotions – the original titles appeared in French, have now reverted to German.

Blütenwirbel relies on impressionist elements, both in terms of harmony, and its arabesque-like figurations as it paints a musical picture of a whirl of swirling flowers, reminiscent of a Liszt study or Debussy prelude. The two Nocturnes that follow likewise draw on the world of Impressionism for their stylistic inspiration, enhanced by the use of whole-tone scales. There is an apparent programmatic intention in the second example, where the literary stimulus was apparently penned by the composer herself, and which might account for the difference in feel between them. Despite their opus number, the Vier Klavierstücke are much earlier works, though glimpses of the composer’s style, to emerge later, are still apparent, and, despite the title, only three out of the original four pieces have survived. Like the Blumenleben, here the composer attempts two miniature tone poems, but with insects, rather than flowers as a stimulus – Libelle and Papillon seeking to evoke the dragonfly and butterfly respectively in playful scherzo-like fashion. Abendgedanke is initially a gentle picture of late-romantic hues, which become more turbulent in the middle section. After the Impromptu – initially placid, though which builds to a more grandiose climax as it progresses, comes the Valse de concert, cast somewhat in the manner of a salon-waltz, though arguably not one of the more effective pieces on the disc with its rather meandering design. CD 1 closes with Erinnerung – a calm romantic outpouring, again with a slightly more active middle section that ventures into more interesting harmonies and keys, before the opening calm returns again, with almost ‘Tristanesque’ harmonies to close.

CD 2 begins with the nine separate short movements of Walzer-Capricen which the composer dedicated to her Dresden teacher, and it is here that virtuosity comes a little more into the reckoning, although not dramatically so, but more in the need for greater precision in the delicate waltz figures and filigree articulations. The nine pieces themselves appear as a mix of Viennese waltz and Chopinesque mazurka, though each with its individual character. There is also a finely-balanced sense of humour, wit, even slight grotesqueness in the writing.

The tender Berceuse, Op. 20 is dedicated to the composer’s little nephew, and features some strange chromatically-descending major chords, and switches between major and minor tonalities.

It’s a pity when sleeve-note contributors don’t appear to do their proof-reading. The next piece, Capriccio, is shown in the full list of pieces, both in the booklet, and on the back of the jewel case as ‘Op. 47’, yet in the body of the notes (both English and German) it is numbered ‘Op. 50’, which is instead the correct opus number of the Zwei Nocturnes. One of the composer’s last piano miniatures, the Capriccio, along with the Humoreske, Op. 54a and Caprice, Op. 54b, which conclude the CD, the harmonic language has noticeably moved forward, as has the aforementioned grotesque, and virtuosic elements – altogether a most impressive little number and potential recital-encore. Likewise, the Zwei Klavierskizzen (Sketches) are quite daring harmonically, with nods in the direction of the overly-chromatic writing of Wagner, through Reger, and even on to Alban Berg in his early Piano Sonata, Op. 1, written some years earlier. The Zwei Intermezzi, on the other hand, inhabit more the harmonic world of Fauré, and are both lovely, intimate creations.

The Berceuse, Op. 2, and all the works that follow, except for Humoreske and Caprice, are early works. Essentially simple in concept and structure, they each portray their respective title, though none – except for the Berceuse – is much over a minute in duration. Nonetheless these early works are still attractive Schumannesque short pieces that could sit well with the intermediate-level pianist, young and old.

Dora Pejačević was a name unknown to me before I got to hear this double-CD. As a pianist and teacher of many years’ experience, I find it hard to believe that we’ve never even ‘met’ before, but thanks to the vision of the CPO label (see below), at least we’ve now been formally introduced, and it’s a name that I shall now want to explore further. Fellow-reviewers have already beaten me to it in terms of investigating much of her musical output in other genres, since, surprisingly, there is already quite a fair representation out there on CD, with a further six on this label alone.

The recording, presentation and playing are all first-rate – save for the slight apparent confusion over opus numbers – and laying out the tracks in non-chronological order across the two discs works very well, and maintains the interest throughout.

It’s good to know that, even after many years in music, there’s always something fresh to discover, and the fact that this composer is from a country about which the headlines for many years have been so unwelcoming, makes this new issue even more appealing.
Philip R Buttall

Reviews of Pejačević recoridngs on CPO
Chamber music
Piano concerto

Track listing
Blumenleben, Op. 19 [19:09]
Sonate, Op. 57 in As-Dur [11:48]
Sechs Fantasiestücke, Op. 17 [14:40]
Blütenwirbel, Op. 45 [2.17]
Zwei Nocturnes, Op. 50 [6:23]
Libelle, Op. 32a, Papillon, Op. 32a and Abendgedanke, Op. 32a from Vier Klavierstücke [10:17]
Impromptu, Op. 32b [6:18]
Valse de concert, Op. 21 [4:14]
Erinnerung, Op. 24 [3:46]
Walzer-Capricen, Op. 28 [12:14]
Berceuse, Op. 20 [2:56]
Sonate, Op. 36 in b-Moll [24:07]
Capriccio, Op. 47 [3:33]
Zwei Klavierskizzen, Op. 44 [5:16]
Zwei Intermezzi, Op. 38 [4:48}
Berceuse, Op. 2 [2:34]
Gondellied, Op. 4 [1:06]
Chanson sans paroles, Op. 5 [1.27]
Papillon, Op. 6 [1:31]
Menuett, Op. 7 [1:09]
Impromptu, Op. 9a [1:17]
Chanson sans paroles, Op. 10 [1:42]
Trauermarsch, Op. 14 [1.34]
Humoreske, Op. 54a [0:49]
Caprice, Op. 54b [1.39]


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