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The Piano of the Opera
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Variationen über "Unser dummer Pöbel meint", KV 455 [12:56]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Variationen über "Là ci darem la mano", Op.2 [17:29]
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
Konzert-Paraphrase von Verdis "Rigoletto" [7:42]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Marche et Réminiscences pour mon dernière voyage... [8:56]
Léon ROQUES (1839-1923)
Fantasie de Ravel: "L'heure espagnole" [8:05]
Moditwa dziewicy, Op. 4 (La prière d'une vierge) [4:45]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Jazzbo Brown Blues (from Porgy and Bess) [3:27]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 - 1899) trans. Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Schatz-Walzer (from ‘Der Zigeunerbaron’) [8:36]
Nikolai KAPUSTIN (b.1937)
Variations, Op. 41 [7:49]
Myron Romanul (piano)
rec. 2010, D.A.I Stuttgart, Germany
EDITION HERA HERA02126 [79:50]

I am rather fond of operatic paraphrases. Here is a rather interesting looking disc including some well-known pieces and some less well known, as well as some pieces that on first thought I didn’t think counted as operatic paraphrases. I do wonder if the title is meant to be “The Piano at the Opera” rather than “The Piano of the Opera” though…

Anyway, the disc begins with Mozart’s well known variations on a theme from Gluck’s opera Die Pilgrime von Mekka, very sprightly played and with plenty of interesting inflections. The slower variations, especially the one around 10 minutes, are particularly effective. I enjoy the way that the theme is presented so clearly despite all the ornamentation and variations in the work. The passagework in the trills at various points throughout the piece is very clear and bright. Overall, I like the cheerful countenance and the way it is played.

Next follows Chopin’s early masterpiece, which Schumann was so fond of, the Variations on a Theme by Mozart (Op.2). This is cleverly programmed on this disc – leading on from the proceeding piece, which is actually by Mozart. I’m more familiar with the orchestra and piano version of his work but here the instruments of the orchestra are all integrated perfectly to generate a stand-alone solo piano work by Chopin. Mr. Romanul is particularly good at pointing out the way the theme is varied and the interconnectedness of the piece as well as the fairly demanding piano part. There is plenty of wit and amusement to be heard here as Chopin varies Mozart’s duet theme La ci darem la mano in numerous clever ways. I particularly like the purity of the upper passages, which are very clear here and stand out marvellously. All of Chopin’s numerous difficulties are dealt with easily, meaning that the descending chromatic runs, which occur throughout the piece, are wonderfully played and nicely integrated into its overall texture. The ending is very sprightly and jolly. This is a great performance of a famous but not often heard or recorded work.

Track 3 is Liszt’s rather ubiquitous Rigoletto paraphrase here dispatched with suitable virtuosity and with some nice touches in the phrasing, especially near the beginning, i.e. in the cascades of notes that lead up to the initial statement of the main theme of the piece. Interestingly, you can really hear Romanul’s pedalling throughout. I’m not sure whether this is something to do with the piano (which is a normal Steinway, according to the notes) or something else but it really helps to project the tune. The second half of the piece is very clear with the repeated notes standing out well in the sea of notes. This is an excellent recording of this often heard work.

I have to confess that I’ve not heard much of Rossini’s piano music but on the strength of this track, perhaps I should make more of an effort. The Marche et Réminiscences pour mon dernière voyage is a marvellous work, starting seriously with a funereal motif before becoming more cheerful and witty by quoting various themes from his operas (including William Tell and La Cenerentola to name but two) as a reminiscence of his composing life, very cleverly interspersed with the more sombre music heard at the outset. The ending is surprisingly sad after the jollity of the earlier material and is very well handled here.

The fifth track is a very odd piece by Léon Roques, based upon a comic opera by Ravel, which I’d not heard of before, called The Spanish Hour”, about a clockmaker’s wife who carries on an affair while her husband is out of town – but predictably everything unravels in a suitably amusing fashion. The piece includes some very Spanish effects and also, a ticking sound in the background, which is generated from 3 metronomes (according to the notes). There are some suitably virtuosic moments as well as some more reflective ones, all with an interesting Spanish lilt. The theme, around 2 minutes in, is rather splendid and beautifully played but quickly transmogrifies into something utterly different requiring more virtuosity. The off-beat rhythm section about 6 minutes in, is wonderful too and there are some almost jazzy hints following this. The work ends surprisingly abruptly with a burst of Spanish fire. I really do appreciate this work and my enjoyment of it was not hampered by my lack of knowledge of the original opera from which it is derived.

Next is the best-selling sheet music of all time, Bądarzewska-Baranowska’s The Maidens Wish, which is played on stage in Kurt Weill’s opera The Rise and Fall of the city of Mahogany. This is fantastically well played with plenty of feeling and some lovely touches. It is rapidly followed by an actual piece by Gershwin – the Jazzbo Brown Blues also played on stage but this time in Porgy and Bess. This is a marvellous jazzy little piece which is very well played here and includes some fun vocal contributions from the pianist in the closing minutes. The piece fades out at the end, without a real ending and where the opera continues on its way.

The penultimate track is Dohnányi’s brilliant virtuoso arrangement of the Schatz-Waltz from Der Zigeunerbaron. This is played with suitable panache and a hint of insouciance that fits the tone of the music very well. The opening few moments are very difficult to play (I have the music) and it contains plenty of pianistic tricks; all of which are dispatched with ease here. The central section of the work has some more reflective music, played with some lovely phrasing, tone and some excellent usage of the sustain pedal. The section leading towards the final pages of the work brings a return of the more bombastic music with some horribly difficult octave leaps in the bass clef, providing a loud accompaniment to the right hand. After some quieter episodes, the main theme returns and bounces along nicely to the loud and quite sudden ending. This is marvellous stuff and deserves to be heard more often in concert.

Lastly and returning to jazzy territory, we have Kapustin’s amazing jazz influenced Variations from 1984. I first heard of Kapustin about 20 years ago from a friend who lent me a CD of his music. As someone who is interested in predominantly 19th century music, I was very surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Kapustin’s music could be described as almost like jazz improvisations but written out in a classical style. The main theme here is derived from Stravinsky’s Le sacré du printemps and carries on through numerous modifications in various jazzy styles. It’s all really cleverly put together and Romanul clearly likes this style of music. It comes across in his playing, which is marvellous, full of joy and played with exemplary control. The slower section, starting about 5 minutes in, is very touchingly performed and quite beautiful. After that, things get progressively more frantic building to a marvellously complex, happy ending.

This disc is clearly designed to show that Myron Romanul can play a wide variety of music from different eras using different techniques and styles equally well. He is able to do this, as he clearly has a superb technique and a wide musical appreciation, coping with anything the music throws at him. I look forward to further recordings by him. Perhaps he could record a disc of the more unusual Liszt operatic paraphrases or some more Kapustin?

Jonathan Welsh

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