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Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2017
rec. live, 18-26 August 2017 Schloss vor Husum

Three species of music are included on this impressive volume of Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2017.

Firstly, there are a few works by well-known composers that have achieved their place in the repertoire of many pianists and feature in several recordings. Only two works fall into this category: ‘Ludus tonalis’ by Paul Hindemith and Percy Grainger’s often-performed ‘Irish Tune from County Derry’. ‘Ludus tonalis’ is compendium of twelve fugues and eleven interludes preceded by a prelude and concluding with a fugue: it was composed in 1942, whilst the composer was in the United States. It is subtitled ‘Studies in Counterpoint, Tonal Organisation and Piano Playing’. The entire piece can be explained as a practical exploration of the composer’s theoretical principles, balancing ‘didactic’ music with some perfectly attractive pieces. Moscow-born pianist Lukas Geniušas performed the entire 50-minute work at the 2017 Husum Festival. Here the vibrant Interludium (Vivace)[Fast], is followed by the gigue-like Fuga quinta in E. The selection closes with the introspective Interludium (Molto tranquillo) [Very Quiet]. The reflective Percy Grainger ‘Tune’ is played by the American soloist Daniel Berman in a manner that does not over-egg the sentimentality of the piece.

The second group of pieces are unknown works by ‘famous’ composers - either original or in transcription. An obvious candidate for this is the ‘Tristanesque’ Elegie in A flat major by Richard Wagner. Clearly better known for his five-hour operas, this little miniature, played by Lukas Geniušas is haunting and utterly beautiful. I will include Carl Czerny as a ‘famous’ name. Certainly, he is well-kent by piano students for his voluminous quantities of studies of varying difficulty. He is rarely heard in the concert hall. The present Variations on a Theme by Rode ‘La Ricordanza’, op. 33 (1822/3) is a pleasure. The Rode in question was Pierre Rode, who wrote much music for the violin. I am not sure what work the ‘theme’ is derived from: the words mean ‘The Remembrance.’ From the quiet presentation of the opening, through the ever-increasing difficulty of succeeding variations, Italian-born Antonio Pompa-Baldi keeps control of this sparkling music and presents a work that demands to be in the repertoire of many more pianists. Francis Poulenc [born in 1899 and not 1866 as per track-listing] wrote much piano music. I guess that relatively little is heard in recital rooms these days. Perhaps the Novelettes, Napoli and the ‘Mouvments perpetuels’ hold their own. I have always particularly admired the ‘Improvisations’ for piano, after first hearing them in a ‘salon’ in Paris in 1979. The present ‘Les chemins de l'amour’ was originally a song written as incidental music to Jean Anouilh’s play Leocadia. Pompa-Baldi has created an enjoyable and suitably urbane transcription this fine dance. Sigismund Thalberg is well known for his opera transcriptions. He has put his hand to music by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mozart and Bellini. The present work is the Fantasy on ‘Casta Diva’ (From Bellini's Opera Norma), op. 70. For listeners expecting fireworks from Thalberg’s pen, it will be disappointment. This is a heartfelt fantasy played with perfectly measured restraint by the Finnish pianist Satu Paavola.

The final piece in the section by well-known composers is Chopin’s Nouvelle Etude No. 1, F Minor. The virtuoso pianist Leopold Godowsky produced arrangements of Chopin’s music, making them even harder to play. The most famous collection is the 53 Studies on Chopin's Études (1894–1914). The present number was one of several pieces that Godowsky did not complete. It has been finished by the present pianist Marc-André Hamelin. This is a complex arrangement that showcases the rhythmic diversity of Chopin’s original piece but does not descend into sheer exhibitionism.

The final group of pieces are by largely unknown composers – at least to this reviewer. Gabriel Dupont was a French musician born in Caen in 1878. He had a tragically short life, dying of tuberculosis in 1914. His music was, I think, mainly for piano, although there are several operas. The audience at Husum were presented with Dupont’s complete ‘Les heures dolentes’ (1905) played by Émile Naoumoff. This unusual work depicted the sick pianist himself in bed hallucinating about his past life. The gorgeous ‘Après-midi de Dimanche’ strikes a perfect balance between Fauré and Debussy. Listen for a musical representation of church bells, heard in the distance as Dupont lay ill. I will certainly try to hear more of his piano music. I was impressed by Marc-André Hamelin’s Toccata on ‘L'homme armé’ composed in 2016. This was written as a test piece for the 15th Van Cliburn Piano Competition held in Fort Worth, Texas. The ‘toccata’ is based on a once-popular French tune from the time of the Renaissance. The listener may feel that Prokofiev is the inspiration for much of the harmonic activity in this vibrant and sometimes acerbic piece. It is played with seemingly frightful ease by the composer. Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) is a Russian composer from Kharkiv. Better known (apparently) for his film music and operas. His ‘Reminiscences of the Theatre’ (2014) were constructed out of music the composer had written in his youth for puppet shows. The suite is a collection of pieces ‘depicting a small entertaining theatrical review.’ Listeners will be reminded of Elgar’s Wand of Youth Suites and Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young - in concept at least. There is nothing challenging about the fifth number here, the very short ‘Rondo-Chase’, which certainly looks back to a more romantic style of composition. It is played with affection by Lukas Geniušas.

Equally ‘petite’ is American all-rounder Abram Chasins’s Prelude in E flat minor: this lovely piece, composed in 1928, is unashamedly quixotic in its mood. Three composers were involved in the realisation of the ‘popular’ song ‘Body and Soul’. It was originally written by Johnny W. Green in 1930. It was included in several transcriptions of ‘standards’ made by American pianist Earl Wild. However, it was unfinished at the time of Wild’s death. So Daniel Berman, created a ‘performable version.’ It could be described as ‘souped-up’ cocktail piano music: and none the worse for that. A major discovery on this CD is Dmitri Blagoy’s (1930-1986) Fairy Tale Sonata composed as late as 1958. He was a Soviet Russian composer, journalist and teacher at the Moscow Music Academy. Despite its title, the present Sonata would appear to have no programme or reference to any fairy-tales. The music is a fusion of neo-classical and early Prokofiev. Certainly, there is much that is ‘romantic’ in these pages. Listeners who have encountered the piano music of Nicolai Medtner and his numerous ‘Skazki’ or fairy tales for piano will appreciate Blagov’s achievement. It is stunningly played (in its entirety) by Italian pianist Vincenzo Maltempo. Maltempo also performs a short ‘Arabesque valsante’, op. 6 by Russian-born Misha Levitzki (1898-1941) dating from 1936. This is a good example of those charming miniatures that regularly crop up on Husum Festival CDs. They are not master-pieces, but they make life even more worth living! Equally appealing is the romantic sounding ‘Scherzo-Valse’ (1952) by fellow Russian Vladimir Drozdov (1882-1960). This work, although some 130 years late with its Chopinesque style, is convincingly played by the young Bulgarian pianist Nadejda Vlaeva. Her other representative piece on this disc the Armenian composer Arno Babadjanian’s (1921-1983) deeply moving ‘Elegy’ (1978) which acknowledges and reflects on the death of Aram Khachaturian. Moving from Armenia to Azerbaijan, Serbian pianist Misha Dacič plays two short pieces by Fikret Amirov (1922-1984). They are gleaned from his ‘10 Miniatures’ which were composed in 1971. Both the ‘Nocturne’ and the ‘Lullaby’ exhibit a profound response to the folk-music of his country. Clearly written during the ‘Soviet’ era, they are not challenging to the listener, just perfectly stated. The last track on this CD, played by Dacič, is ‘El Vals del Duende’ written by the Argentine broadcaster, musician, writer and actor, Alejandro Dolina and arranged by fellow- Argentinean composer and pianist Pablo Ziegler. This is a moody, lugubrious little tango that brings this splendid selection of rare piano music to a thoughtful conclusion.

I have noted the outstanding playing in the main body of my review. The general recording is excellent, despite being made at live performances. The liner notes by Jesper Buhl are most helpful and include much information on these ‘rare’ composers and their music. They are printed in German and English.

There is much to inspire interest on this CD. I have said before about the Husum Festival CDs that it is practically impossible to pick out highpoints: in fact, it is a continual highlight from the first track to the last. Long may this series continue. And could the 2018 Festival compilation be released as a ‘doubler’ please?

John France

Carl CZERNY (1791-1857) Variations on a Theme by Rode ‘La Ricordanza’, op. 33 (1822/3) [11:38]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)/Antonio POMPA-BALDI (b.1974) Les chemins de l'amour (1940) [3:28]
Antonio Pompa-Baldi (piano)
Gabriel DUPONT (1878-1914)
From ‘Les heures dolentes’: No.5 Après-midi de dimanche (1905) [3:24]
Émile Naoumoff (piano)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-35)/Sigismund THALBERG (1812-71) Fantasy on Casta Diva (From Bellini's Opera Norma), op. 70 (?) [6:27]
Satu Paavola (piano)
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-49)/Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)/Marc-André HAMELIN (b.1961)
Nouvelle Etude No. 1, F Minor (?) [3:50]
Marc-André HAMELIN Toccata on ‘L'homme armé’ (2016) [4:25]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963) From ‘Ludus tonalis’ (1942) Interludium (Vivace) [1:04]; Fuga quinta in E (Vivace) [1:15]; Interludium (Molto tranquillo) [2:22]
Richard WAGNER (1813-83) Elegie in A flat Major, WWV 93 (1882) [1:45]
Leonid DESYATNIKOV (b.1955) From ‘Reminiscences of the Theatre’ (2014) No. 5 Rondo-Chase [1:29]
Lukas Geniušas (piano)
Abram CHASINS (1903-87) Prelude in E flat Minor, op. 12, No. 2 (1928) [2:44]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Irish Tune from County Derry (1918) [2:38]
John[ny] W. GREEN (1908-89)/Earl WILD (1915-2010)/ Daniel BERMAN (b.1956) ‘Body and Soul’ (1930) [3:39]
Daniel Berman (piano)
Dmitri BLAGOY (1930-1986) Fairy Tale Sonata (1958) [11:39]
Misha LEVITZKI (1898-1941) Arabesque valsante, op. 6 (1934) [3:30]
Vincenzo Maltempo (piano)
Vladimir DROZDOV (1882-1960) Scherzo-Valse (1952) [1:51]
Arno BABADJANIAN (1921-1983) Elegy (1978) [3:47]
Nadejda Vlaeva (piano)
Fikret AMIROV (1922-1984) From ‘10 Miniatures’ (1971) ‘Nocturne’ [1:21]; Lullaby [1:48]
Alejandro DOLINA (b.1945)/Pablo ZIEGLER (b.1944) El Vals del Duende (?) [3:01]
Misha Dacič (piano)


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