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Jean Louis NICODÉ (1853-1919)
Andenken an Robert Schumann 'Sechs Phantasiestücke' Op. 6 [32:35]
Variationen und Fuge über ein Originalthema Op. 18 [22:25]
Ein Liebesleben 'Zehn Poësieen' Op. 22 [26:17]
Simon Callaghan (piano)
rec. 2018, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
HYPERION CDA68269 [81:17]

Many composers in contented harness to grand masters of the past actually studied with those masters or were their contemporaries. Jean Louis Nicodé’s position is quite different. In his case, it is Schumann’s world that reaches out across the generations. Nicodé, as a virtual pupil of Schumann, was a composer born in Prussia. His birthplace was in fact in Poznań, also the birth home of Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka whose violin concerto features on another Hyperion CD this month.

Memories (Andenken) of Robert Schumann reaches out across the years and clearly gripped Nicodé. When Schumann died in 1856 Nicodé was only three years of age. Yet he, pretty faithfully, ‘channels’ Schumann on a no holds barred basis. While the 29 pieces here, grouped into three sequences, are brief - no more than five minutes long - that is no obstacle to a full-on unwavering romantic flood. The fugue of Op. 18 is an exception at just over nine minutes. The first and fifth pieces of Andenken include spicy ‘wrong-note’ twists. As for the Op. 18 group, so much of it sounds as if it has taken wing from the Schumann Piano Concerto. These Variations (eleven of them) and Fugue on an Original Theme derive from a similar style-set and pretty impressive too. The stormy Variation IX (Dröhnend und feurig) cuts through a bucking and heaving tangibly violent ocean. The fugue, at 9:47, is joyous and, for a fugue (a form I have difficulty with), it works quite well with its bell-swung progress. Nicodé ends the Fugue with a most uncharacteristic, sentiment heavy, quiet valediction.

The booklet notes cite other composers for style parallels in the case of the miniatures forming Op. 22. This rejoices in the wonderful title Ein Liebesleben. While the other two works have a substantial freight of grand turbulent gestures the ten little statements that make up Op. 22 are more confiding and intimate. It’s the closest approach Nicodé makes, across these three works, to the dangerous yet alluring shoals of MacDowell-like sentimentality. The bardic mood of Einsam: Langsam, trüb (tr. 28) has a stern elegiac imprint which contrasts with the final Traum und Erwachen: Sehr rasch which might perhaps have been inspired less by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and more by The Tempest’s elemental Ariel.

Simon Callaghan is a practised hand and mind in presenting with deep-rooted conviction such little known music. Evidence can be found in his work, via Hyperion and Somm, on behalf of Rheinberger, Roger Sacheverell Coke Piano Concertos and Preludes and Delius transcriptions.

The engineering and production values by Ben Connellan and Jeremy Hayes present the music to excellent advantage, as does the essential liner-essay by Jeremy Nicholas. We and Hyperion can trust these figures and the unstinting playing time assures us of generosity as well. How often are we introduced to unfamiliar music on short-running discs?

Jeremy Nicholas helpfully reminds us that very few (were there any?) of Nicodé’s orchestral works have made it to LP or CD. The Carnival Scenes were recorded in 1954 by the Leipzig RSO conducted by Hilmar Weber as of 2011 on Naxos Classical Archive, 2011.

Rob Barnett

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