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The Great Danish Pianist: Victor Schiĝler - Volume 2
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, op.23 (1874-5) [32:19]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnival, op.9 (1834) [27:30]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Three Intermezzi, op.117 (1892) [19:56]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasia in C minor, K396 (1782) [7:19]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for violin and piano in A Major ‘Kreutzer’ op.47 (1803) [31:49]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Trio for violin, cello and piano in B flat major, op.99 [D.898] (1828) [33:04]
Impromptu in G major, op.90, no.3 [D.899] (1827) [5:45]
Victor Schiĝler (piano)
Emil Telmányi (violin: Beethoven)
Henry Holst (violin: Schubert), Erling Blondal Bengtsson (cello)
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Erik Tuxen
rec. Tchaikovsky, Sept/Oct 1950; Schumann, 1956; Brahms, 1956; Mozart, 1955; Beethoven, 1942; Schubert, 1955 (Trio), 1957 (Impromptu)
DANACORD DACOCD781-2 [77:35 + 78:18]

There are an eye-watering 205 versions of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, op.23 currently listed on the Arkiv CD website. It is a work every listener knows and I am sure all have their own preferred version. Age allows me to suggest that mine is by the pianist Julius Katchen with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pierino Gamba. That is because his was the first version of this work I heard, on the old Decca Eclipse label (ECS 510). But life moves on: I now include Vladimir Horowitz, Oleg Marshev, Mikhail Pletnev and (my ‘modern’ favourite) Martha Argerich as stunning alternatives. The present recording with Victor Schiĝler (1899-1967) and Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erik Tuxen impressed and moved me. It was recorded back in 1950, some 67 years ago: it has weathered well.

A few words about the pianist, courtesy of the liner notes: Victor Schiĝler was one of the most recorded Danish pianists of the mid-twentieth century. His discography is wide-ranging and includes music by Grieg, Beethoven, Liszt, Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky. He began recording in 1924 and continued until shortly before his untimely death in 1967. The present CD is a fine 50th anniversary tribute.

Victor Schiĝler was born in Copenhagen on 7 April 1899 After study with his mother, the pianist Augusta Schiĝler, he continued his studies with Ignaz Friedman and Artur Schnabel. Following the First World War, he established himself as one of Denmark’s great soloists. After wide touring engagements, he settled in his native country as conductor, soloist and musical advisor at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen. Victor Schiĝler died 17 February 1967.

Robert Schumann’s splendid work for piano, Carnival was subtitled ‘Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes’ or translated ‘Dainty scenes on four notes’. The work is based for the ‘most part’ on the notes A S C H (A, Eb, C and B). The title seems to belie the importance and depth of this piece. All 22 pieces in the work describes either a character or mood from the musical and artistic world: this includes the composer himself. There are also several ‘interludes.’ The work was composed in 1834, shortly before Schumann ended his engagement to Ernestine von Fricken.

Any performance of Carnival must match the poetic and dramatic allusions of the titles with the technical maturity of each movement. It is a testament to Schumann’s mastery of composition that he can devise such a wide range of musical ‘variations’ from a limited theme. This musical eclecticism is evident in Victor Schiĝler’s rendition of this delightful work.

A lovely bonus on this CD are the Three Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms. The word implies something trivial: a work designed to be played between more important fare. Yet, these three pieces explore deep waters. The first has Scottish overtones in its temper: the second is much warmer in mood and the third is austere and to my mind quite depressing. They are stunningly played by Victor Schiĝler in this 1956 recording.

Dating from 1955, Victor Schiĝler’s performance of Mozart’s well-known Fantasia in C minor, K396 (1782) maintains the required balance between a sense of improvisation and a controlled exposition of the main themes. Mozart has created a work that seems to combine the baroque world and that of romanticism, almost missing out on the classical era. This stylistic ‘smoke and mirrors’ is wonderfully captured by the pianist.

My introduction to the Beethoven Violin Sonatas was the boxed set by David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin, found in the school music-room cupboard. Since then, I have been impressed most by Tasmin Little and Martin Roscoe on Chandos. Victor Schiĝler’s recording of the Sonata for violin and piano in A Major ‘Kreutzer’ op.47, dates from 1942. The violinist was the Hungarian Emil Telmányi (1892-1988) who vies for equal honours in this performance. The liner notes explain that there was considerable difficulty in realising a pristine recording from the three rare copies in the engineer’s possession. What has resulted in a fine performance that is hardly dated. The love of both players for this masterpiece is clear in every bar.

Franz Schubert’s Trio for violin, cello and piano in B flat major, op.99 [D.898] has long been a favourite of mine since first discovering the wonderful Beaux Arts Trio version on Phillips. The present recording of this work was made in 1955 and features three of Denmark’s most prominent soloists including the cellist, Erling Blondal Bengtsson (1932-2013) (who has featured in several historical CDs from Danacord) and the violinist, Henry Holst (1899-1991), well-known in the United Kingdom during the inter-war years.

Robert Schumann is reported to have said that “one glance at Schubert’s Trio and the troubles of our human existence disappear, and all the world is fresh and bright again”. Allowing for the advances in technology over the past 62 years, this recording provides that consolation. It is unfortunate that this is the only surviving recording made by this remarkable group of three musicians.

My ‘gold standard’ for Schubert’s gorgeous Impromptu in G major, op.90, no.3 is Alfred Brendel, once again on Phillips. Schiĝler’s is a well-balanced and finely-poised performance dating from 1957.

The liner notes by Claus Byrith are most helpful. He is the man who did the outstanding transfers. A sterling job. The only criticism is that Danacord got the year of Tchaikovsky’s death wrong: it was 1893 not 1892.

Altogether, this a superb double-CD. It features several of my favourite pieces of classical music, for which I am most grateful to have heard these excellent historical recordings made by Victor Schiĝler, I anticipate that there will be plenty more CDs of this great pianist soon.

John France



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