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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Introduzione e Rondo Brillant in B flat major, op.233 (c.1833) [14:50]
Piano Concerto in D minor (1811-12) [40:40]
Introduction, Variations and Rondo on Weber’s Hunting Chorus from the opera ‘Euryanthe’, op.60 (1824) [23:52]
Rosemary Tuck (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
rec. 2016, St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London
NAXOS 8.573688 [79:31]

Most aspiring pianists will have met Carl Czerny. Whether it is the ‘elementary’ Practical Method for Beginners on the Pianoforte (op.599), The Art of Finger Dexterity op.740 or The School of Velocity op.299 they will have struggled through at least some of these ‘exercises.’ Often regarded as being unmusical, they are/were used for overcoming various technical challenges and resolving common faults in playing. I have found some of them quite attractive and feel that they would benefit from being given slightly more imaginative titles than ‘exercises in passage playing.’ All this means that to most musicians Czerny is simply a pedant, often dry as dust, and lacking any potential for enjoyment. Wrong! As I hope that listeners to this new CD from Naxos will discover.

A few notes about the composer will help. Carl Czerny was born in Leopoldstad, Vienna on 21 February 1791. He was such a promising student that Beethoven took him on when aged only nine. Czerny’s first composition was published some five years later. Other teachers included Muzio Clementi and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Over succeeding years, he achieved recognition throughout Europe as a composer and a virtuoso pianist. However, it was as a teacher that he became most highly regarded. Franz Liszt was his most prestigious pupil. Other ‘students’ included Stephen Heller, Theodor Kullak and Sigismund Thalberg. Czerny wrote more than 1000 works, many of which contained several discrete pieces. His body of work was not limited to technical exercises, but included masses, requiems, nine symphonies, concertos, sonatas, quartets, songs and arrangements of operas. He did not actually compose an original opera! Carl Czerny died in his hometown on 15 July 1857.

Czerny’s Introduzione e Rondo Brillant in B flat major, op.233 was written around 1833. The precise date is unknown. The work opens with a grave ‘introduction’ in the minor key. This sometimes ‘Chopinesque’ mood does not last for long before the piano presents a ‘presto’ cadenza leading into the Rondo. This is a delightfully satisfying romp which, as the liner notes suggest, “is full of mischief”. The listener cannot but be impressed with the twists and turns of Czerny’s development of his favourite ‘rondo’ form. The technical challenges appear huge, but Rosemary Tuck is equal to them with this bravura performance. This is a hugely enjoyable piece that one thinks would be a pleasing crowd-puller at any concert.

The Piano Concerto in D minor is long, weighing in at just over 40 minutes. Much as I enjoyed this work, I did wonder if it perhaps overstayed its welcome. It was composed between 1811-12 when the composer was 20 years old and was his first essay in this form. The general critical impression is that Czerny had Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 (1803) on his mind at the time. The opening movement is a long 25 minutes and is a surprisingly complex balance between ‘darkness and foreboding’ and a more ‘congenial’ mood. Rosemary Tuck and Alan Jones provided the cadenza. The adagio opens with a lovely horn passage before developing into a ‘pastoral’ mediation. This lasts for only a few minutes before the finale takes over. The listener is at the hunt, with lively horn calls and galloping melodies. There are some lovely moments of repose, but mostly this is vivacious ‘brio’ music. If anything, this concerto is just a little unbalanced in terms of movement durations; however, based on the wonderful musical invention throughout, the composer can be forgiven. It is stunningly played.

The Introduction, Variations and Rondo on Weber’s ‘Hunting Chorus’ from the opera Euryanthe, Op. 60 was published in June 1824. Czerny has devised a considerable work playing for over 23 minutes. The liner notes suggest that this virtuosic piece was written shortly after the premiere of Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Euryanthe at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna on 25 October 1823. After a strong ‘introduction’ which balances stirring chords with some gorgeous, slow figurations, the intricate variations which follow feature much interplay of between the piano and orchestra before the delightful rondo brings the work to a sparkling close. It is a splendid work that is like a piano concerto in scale. Listeners who know Euryanthe and the ‘Huntsman’s Chorus’ from Act III Scene V will hear some elaborate re-presentations of Weber’s music that seems to wander far from the ‘chorus.’ In fact, it often sounds more like Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (1811) than Weber. This is an exciting and dynamic performance and is a ‘world premiere recording.’

I do wish that a little more analytical information had been given in the liner notes, as two of these three works are first recordings. There is little background information on any of them available on the ‘web.’ I was unable to find the scores in the digital libraries.

The recording of these works was perfect. Australian pianist Rosemary Tuck’s gives an ideal performance that often bends to towards the classical rather than the romantic. That said, she handles the Weber and Chopin ‘nods’ with great skill and imagination. The English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge is always sympathetic.

John France


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