Karol TAUSIG (1841-1871)
Réminiscences de 'Halka' (de St. Moniuszko) - Fantaisie de Concert Op.2b [12:44]
L'Espérance - Nocturne Varié Op.3a [4:53]
Deux Études de Concert Op.1c [8:38]
Le Ruisseau - Étude Op.6a [2:28]
Ungarische Zigeunerweisen [12:08]
Impromptu Op.1a [5:59]
Sechs Übungsstücke (Six Exercises) - "Tägliche Studien" [4:09]
Introduction and Tarantella Op.2a [2:56]
Reverie Op.5a [5:14]
Das Geisterschiff - Symphonische Ballade Op.1b [8:37]
Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. 7-8 May 2016, Opus Dissonus Studios

As a big fan of Liszt, I am also interested in his legacy, as transmitted via his pupils. One such, often described as Liszt's "best" pupil, was the Polish composer and pianist, Karol (or Karl or Carl) Tausig. He was one of the greatest pianists of his age and I’ve always believed, had he not succumbed to typhoid at the age of only 29, that he may have changed the course of musical history. Bearing all this in mind, and my own enthusiasm for virtuoso piano music, I have been waiting for years for someone to record a CD of his original piano works. When I was given the opportunity to review this disc, I jumped at the chance.

Tausig's catalogue is not large and comprises a mix of transcriptions and original works but here the original works are kept together. Sadly, no one has yet attempted the complete piano music; there are arrangements of Wagner which have been recorded several times (The Ride of the Valkyries) and Schubert (Tausig’s solo arrangement of the Marche Militaire, D733 no.1) but the rest remains pretty much unknown and recorded only once or not at all. I would dearly like someone to finish his transcriptions of the first twelve of Liszt's Symphonic Poems as many remain almost complete in manuscript and apparently would only require a little work to realise. For further reading about these transcriptions, refer to the article by the late Dennis Hennig in the Liszt Society Journal volume 17 dating from 1992. These works would also make an interesting comparison with the wonderful transcriptions by August Stradal, some of which have been recorded by Toccata Classics (Liszt: vol. 1, vol. 2; Wagner: vol. 1, vol. 2).

I should point out that Tausig's opus numbering system is a little haphazard - there are three Op.1s and some later opus numbers are missed out altogether.

A few words about the Brazilian pianist Artur Cimirro: interestingly, his website states that he has transcribed three of Liszt’s symphonic poems (nos. 5, 7, 11) “made using the same techniques as Carl Tausig”; I am unsure whether these are completions of Tausig’s incomplete manuscripts or whether they are original transcriptions by Cimirro in the style of Tausig. He also states that he has produced editions of the symphonic poems as transcribed by Tausig, as well as Liszt’s two symphonies, Tausig’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis - a re-working I didn’t even know existed - and two of the Chopin etudes.

Anyway, this disc starts off with Tausig's Op.2b, a fantasy on Moniuszko's opera Halka. This has been recorded once before (Vox), by Michael Ponti and is available on various CDs with variety of couplings. However, Ponti misses out some of Tausig's technical problems, for example, the horribly challenging runs in sixths in the left hand at 7:56 which Cimirro does include. Ponti also leaves out the very last few bars. This is a very brave piece with which to start your first recording; its difficulties are superhuman. It's well played overall with the middle section marked Moderato, non troppo lento being especially good. If I have one criticism, it is that the tempi are pulled about quite a lot. Cimirro slows down from time to time which distorts the shape of the piece making it sound slightly episodic. However, with repeated listening, this becomes much less of an issue. Well done to Cimirro for having the guts to tackle this phenomenal work.

Next follows the first recording of the little L’Espérance – Nocturne varié (Op.3a). This is a wonderful little nocturne, excellently played and perfectly judged throughout. The melody is extremely memorable and the rippling left-hand accompaniment is hushed and beautifully phrased.

The two etudes published as one of the Op.1s (in this case designated Op.1c, a convention which helps alleviate the confusion of the opus numbers, mentioned earlier) have also been recorded before, once again by Michael Ponti. Here, Cimirro is a little slower but plays both studies very well. His whole approach is totally different to that adopted by Ponti, so much so that the first of the two sounds like a different piece altogether. It’s very interesting to compare these two recordings of two finger-twisting studies. Both approaches work equally well.

There is another first recording at track 5 – an etude entitled Le Ruisseau and published as Op. 6a. This is cheerful and very short with a quieter beginning and a more agitated central section. It ends in a flurry of very quiet notes high up on the keyboard. I find it hard to understand why it hasn’t been recorded before. It is played excellently with a rather charming lilt and all virtuosic difficulties dispatched admirably.

Next follows possibly the most famous of Tausig’s original works - if it is possible to describe any of his works as such: the Ungarische Zigeunerweisen, loosely translated as "Hungarian Gypsy Airs". This has also been recorded before - by Stephen Hough and was originally on his "Piano Album" - now reissued in multiple different compilations but originally Virgin Classics VCS61498. Again, this is Tausig at his most challenging and the virtuoso tricks are all there: chromatic runs, huge leaps, parallel thirds and repeated octaves, to name but four. I really like the way Cimirro plays the opening section – all the details are present and correct. There is a good deal of humour too and this comes across well in this recording. It's most prominent around 6:00 where the tune suddenly scurries off in the manner of the more rapid of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. The "Hungarianisms" are perhaps slightly underplayed at the beginning but overall this is a marvellous account of another piece which deserves to be heard more often.

The Impromptu (another Op.1 – here given Op.1a) is a little charmer, in the manner of a supercharged Chopin Impromptu but with added difficulties. The beginning is rather dark and mysterious before a much more lyrical section. As before, everything is very well played and perfectly judged. This is another piece which will stick in the mind - the bouncy tune at about 2:00 is memorable. There is a much more questioning and rather introspective section prior to a reiteration of the opening theme. Then follows a rather odd ending which seems to appear from nowhere. This is a strange little piece which doesn’t work terribly well but, as the earliest work we know by Tausig, is worth hearing, especially when played with such mastery.

Tracks 8–13 are tiny little studies published as part of Tausig’s Daily Studies, some of which, it turns out, were not by Tausig. These are designed to improve technique and last between 00:30 and 1:08. The first is a rapid-fire Allegro with lots of repeated chords and leaping about in the bass. The next is similar to a Chopin etude with notes flying from one hand to the other. The third is a cheerful little effort which ping-pongs from one end of the keyboard to the other. The fourth is similar in mood to Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28 no. 2 with a rather sinister bass-line. The following piece is a Moderato which serves as a sort of introduction to the final Andante. All six pieces are immaculately played although the final one is played a fraction fast for an Andante. However, this is a very minor criticism.

Next follows an Introduction and Tarantella, Op. 2a which has been recorded once in an arrangement for clarinet solo. The Introduction is slow and melancholy but the Tarantella is exactly what you would expect and seems to be a sort of second cousin to the beginning section of Liszt’s Tarantella from the supplement to the second set of Années de pèlerinage S162 no. 3. The ending is suitably virtuosic. I rather like this little piece and the way it is played here.

The following piece - Reverie, Op.5a - is again a slow-paced composition, in the manner of a nocturne and is a delight. Here again the balance is spot-on. The yearning main theme offers a further truly memorable tune – it is amazing that a teenage boy could write music of this degree of maturity. There is an unusual device here where the music stops from bar to bar and pauses fractionally before re-starting. The whole effect commands the attention and is well judged. The last two minutes include lots of harmonies in sixths, creating a lyrical soundscape.

The last piece is the infrequently recorded Impromptu – Das Geisterschiff (published as another Op.1, here designated Op.1b). When this was shown to Liszt and when he saw the double glissandi at 2:06 he is said to have remarked something along the lines of “how do you do this?” Tausig showed him and after several attempts, Liszt played it. Interestingly, Bizet - who was also present - played the passage in question and Liszt remarked that he, Bizet, had played it the best of the three men present. Again, as with the Halka Fantasy, there is a temptation for Mr. Cimirro to pull the tempi about which makes the music sound slightly rushed in places but, as before, this effect is reduced with repeated listening. The section prior to the last few bars, marked Langsam is full of weird key-changes and big chords. This is played in a very detached way which adds to the tension. The ending is a headlong rush up the keyboard before plunging down to the bass with major key tremolandos.

One small complaint: the quality of the sound – the piano seems a long way away from the microphones and, coupled with Mr.Cimirro’s incredibly fast attack on the notes this makes for a slightly harsh effect. Again, this problem becomes less noticeable with repeated listening – odd how the brain and ears learn to compensate for such things on recordings. I should also say that the same problem occurs on Mr Cimirro's recordings on You-tube. These include his insanely hard transcription of The Ride of the Valkyries for left hand only.

On the very positive side, much of the music is played exceptionally well and the disc is full of rare works that I have wanted to hear for years. I am pleased finally to have had the chance to do so. The disc is well filled and the cover notes are most interesting. I knew little about some of these pieces so it was nice to learn more from these. Overall, this is a good recording of some horribly complex music. I look forward to a this pianist next tackling Tausig’s as yet unrecorded transcriptions.

Jonathan Welsh

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