The Great Danish Pianist: Victor Schiĝler. Volume 3
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasia in C minor, K 396 (1782) [8:54]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
No. 23 in F minor, op. 57 (Appassionata) (1805) [21:19]
Sonata No. 30 in E major, op. 109 (1820) [20:40]
Sonata No. 32 in C minor, op. 111 (1822) [24:42]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1974)
Polka from the ballet ‘The Golden Age’ (1930/1935) [2:15]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Sonata No. 8 in C minor, op. 13 (Pathétique) (1798) [19:57]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Sonata in B minor [No.3], op. 58 (1844) [24:38]
Sonata in B flat minor [No.2], op. 35 (1839) [23:00]
Ballade [No.3] in A flat major, op. 47 (1841) [7:07]
Fantaisie Impromptu, op. 66 (truncated) (1834) [4:34]
DANACORD DACOCD832/833 [78:22+79:45]
I am not a big enthusiast of historical recordings (you can’t listen to everything!). For most of my life I have eagerly awaited the ‘latest’ issue of any given work. On the other hand, what is historical? My core collection of British music was issued on Lyrita, beginning in the late 1950s. Many of my favourite performances there are more than half a century old. I guess that I have exceptions too. I thoroughly enjoy the piano playing of Moura Lympany, Myra Hess and Eileen Joyce – all protegées of Tobias Matthay. So maybe I am a bigger enthusiast than I care to admit…
Which brings me to Victor Schiĝler. The present double-CD presents a stunning selection of masterpieces, among them Beethoven’s four major sonatas and Chopin’s two sonatas. Bearing in mind that I am not a Beethoven devotee, I can state categorically that this CD is a masterpiece of performance and sound restoration.
First a few words about the pianist. Victor Schiĝler was born in Copenhagen on 7 April 1899. After preliminary study with his mother, the pianist Augusta Schiĝler, he studied with Ignaz Friedmann and Artur Schnabel. His first public performance was in his home city on 23 January 1914. After the end of the First World War, Schiĝler toured Europe. He was not to make his debut in the United States until 1948. Besides playing at recitals and concerts, he was a conductor widely respected in Denmark. He was musical advisor for the Royal Opera in Copenhagen. Schiĝler was one of the most prolifically recorded pianists of the mid-twentieth century. He made his first record in 1924. His discography ranges through Grieg, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Many records were issued on the Danish HMV and Tono labels. Victor Schiĝler died on 17 February 1967.
I do not wish to present a detailed analysis of Beethoven’s piano sonatas but a few general comments may be of interest. I confess to normally getting bored when I listen to them. Naturally, I do not deny their achievement or importance as a cornerstone of the pianistic repertoire. What amazed me about Victor Schiĝler’s performance of these works is that it kept my attention throughout. Even the ever-popular and interminably played Appassionata and Pathétique sonatas seemed to revel in new depths of thought and understanding that I have not noticed before. More surprising was my absolute enjoyment of the slightly less-often heard Sonata in E major, op. 109. This intimate work impressed me at every turn. I must now go and listen to one or two other versions of this beautiful music – probably in the Brendel or Barenboim versions. I was flabbergasted that this work is my big ‘discovery’ of this disc.
Victor Schiĝler imbues these four sonatas with a thought-provoking wisdom that makes them into the masterpieces that they are. The balance of technical requirements and aesthetic balance is never in doubt. There is an ever-present warmth of mood and refinement of tone. On the other hand, there is never a whiff of sentimentality in these pages.
Maurice Hinson suggests that Piano Sonata No. 2, op.35 is probably Chopin’s most successful large-scale work. Certainly, this massive four-movement piece, balancing the diverse moods, requires huge imagination from the soloist. What a contrast there is between the powerful opening movement, the thoughtful trio in the Scherzo and the brief but mystical, almost atonal presto finale. I appreciated Schiĝler’s interpretation of this Sonata.
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B major, op. 58 is equally popular. This four-movement work is full of pyrotechnics. The Finale-Presto presents particularly difficult challenges. To both these sonatas, Schiĝler brings a considerable maturity and massive technical skill. He spresent not only the technical wizardry of this music, but its substance as well.
Other smaller pieces include Mozart’s less-often heard Fantasia No. 2 in C minor, left unfinished by the composer and completed by Maximillian Stadler. Then there is the delightful Polka from Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Golden Age which was all about a Soviet football team visiting an industrial exhibition in the ‘wicked Capitalist’ West. It is full of wrong notes, mild dissonances, and is downright ‘mischievous’. Chopin’s sensitive Ballade No. 3 in A flat Major, op.47 – with its relatively straightforward sonata-like structure – is included as a filler. Finally, there is a truncated version of the well-loved Fantaisie-Impromptu, op. 66 which is ‘always chasing rainbows’.
The brief liner notes do not give any details about the music played. I guess that there is no great need for yet another discussion of these masterpieces. There are a few biographical details omitted from the lengthy discussion included in Volume 1.
I praise the almost miraculous remastering of virtually every work here. It is a splendid package that should appeal to all Beethoven and Chopin enthusiasts. Only the most-pernickety would find fault with the sound quality of these 60-plus-year-old recordings.