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Juliusz WERTHEIM (1880-1928)
Preludes op. 2 [13:05]
Preludes op. 5 [5:51]
Variations op. 4 "à Wilhelm Backhaus" [32:19]
Impromptus op. 6 [17:51]
Drei Weisen im polnischen Volkston op. 13 "Herrn Roman Jasinski zugeeignet" [10:11]
Elżbieta Tyszecka (piano)
rec. Polskie Radio Studio S1, Warsaw, 2018
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0428 [80:32]

Juliusz Wertheim was born into a prominent Warsaw banking family. His father was the step-brother of the pianist and composer Carl Tausig, whilst his mother was an accomplished singer. After his initial music training in Warsaw Wertheim moved to Berlin, where he studied composition with Heinrich Urban, and piano with Moritz Moszkowski and Karl Heinrich Barth. Barth would also teach Artur Rubinstein who would become a frequent performer at Wertheim’s musical evenings. Juliusz’s approach to the playing of Chopin was an important influence on Rubinstein’s own playing. Wertheim was also a member of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and became its conductor during the 1915-1916 Season. He went on to become a professor at the Warsaw Conservatory from 1919 to 1921 before returning to Berlin where he made his living as a composer. His works include 4 symphonies, Piano Concerto Op. 1, many piano works, including sonatas, and a number of songs. Wertheim died at the age of 47 from a heart attack whilst he was conducting a performance of the Overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

The four Preludes Op. 2, the earliest works presented on this disc, are “dominated by melancholy and sorrow”. The longest and most interesting of these works is the second Prelude, neo-romantic in natur. The music is underpinned by a repeated motif in the left hand so that it almost sounds like a slow march. Elżbieta Tyszecka in her brief description states that it is reminiscent of a funeral march. The third Prelude is the brightest of the four, but even then there is a tinge of sadness. Even though these are early works, Wertheim shows that he is willing to be bold, and to experiment with the occasional use of dissonance in his music.

This deep and dark aspect of the music is carried through into the first of the two Preludes Op. 5. It opens gloomily before developing into a more animated and powerful central section and then becoming more melancholic again. This is in contrast to the second Prelude, marked Non troppo animato. It is reminiscent of the Preludes of Szymanowski, a composer whom Wertheim admired. It is certainly the most engaging and lilting of the six preludes presented here.

The major work on this disc is the set of Variations Op. 4 which the young composer dedicated to the renowned pianist, Wilhelm Backhaus. Even in this relatively early work, Wertheim shows that he has a mastery of the form. A strong original theme is followed by ten variations, some of which are quite complex and demanding. The original theme is quite stately whilst the variations show a diversity and individuality. The first, Un poco animato, is almost fugal like, the third is more dramatic in its approach. The final and by far the longest variation, marked Maestoso, tempo di polka, not only introduces the listener to the original theme, but develops it into a new theme completely, one which returns us to the darker side of the composer’s music.

The two Impromptus op. 6 are both composed in three parts, A-B-A. The opening songlike melody gives way to a more dramatic and complex central section before the return of the original melodic material. The central sections are more complex. That of the First Impromptu has a more extemporised feel, and the final section shows an interesting exposition of the original motif. Both these Impromptus show how Wertheim develops the songlike themes into something attractive and quite wonderful.

The final work on this disc is the Drei Weisen im polnischen Volkston op. 13, dedicated to one of Wertheim’s piano students, Roman Jasiński. These three short pieces once again show Wertheim at his most soulful and songlike. The first is a Mazurka kept in the minor key. The second of these pieces stays with the Mazurka, although this time it moves more towards the style of Szymanowski once again. The third piece is a lilting, songlike, very attractive, soothing piece that lives op to its title of Allegretto tranquillo.

This is very attractive and interesting music. I hope that Acte Préalable go on to record more of it, as I would like to hear what Wertheim does with the sonata. The pieces are played really well by Elżbieta Tyszecka, who also wrote the descriptive and helpful booklet notes. She seems to get to the heart of this music, making this disc most welcome.

Stuart Sillitoe



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