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Rarities of Piano Music at 'Schloss vor Husum' - From the 2018 Festival
rec. live, 18-25 August 2018, Schloss vor Husum, Germany

There is some kind of a tradition that on that night (Halloween) some of these departed spirits return and play some strange tricks. So will you all pretend that it's Halloween while I walk some ghosts!

These were Arthur Loesser's words at the opening of his October 29th recital in 1967. Raff, Reger, Rubinstein and Ravina were amongst the 'departed spirits' that he played on that occasion (and that was just the Rs). The Rarities of piano music festival may fall earlier in the year than Halloween but it has effectively been walking ghosts since it began in 1986. The wellspring of unknown music and composers is in no danger of running dry anytime soon and the Husum festival and its team of explorer pianists have once again brought forth a generous bundle of riches.

Saying all that it may seem odd to see Debussy's name as the disc's opening track. There are, however, still early works that are not played that often and Fabian Müller treats us to a beautiful performance of the Ballade. Though Debussy may have originally composed this as Ballade slave there is almost nothing Slavonic about it and the use of piano figuration and harmony so familiar from the Arabesques or La plus que lente are certainly in evidence here.

I had not heard anything by the Caen-born Gabriel Dupont but I want to hear more on the strength of these idiomatic performances by Severin von Eckardstein. He plays the first and last pieces of Dupont's cycle La maison dans les dunes (the house in the dunes), written when Dupont was convalescing at Cap Ferret, suffering from the tuberculosis that would end his life six years later at the age of 36. The pieces portray the natural heritage of this coastal area; early morning on the dunes as the sun rises and the passionately evocative Houles (swells), an almost innocuous title for the storm that Dupont conjures up. In the beguiling, rhythmically complex weave of this music the harmonic world of his contemporaries can be heard as well as echoes of Albéniz and Russian masters like Rachmaninov and Stravinsky.

Vierne's organ output overshadows his other music but there is much to admire, not least his beautiful Poème for piano and orchestra (review). Muza Rubackyte chose Vierne's 12 Préludes Op.36 to open her Husum recital and two are included here. The 7th, titled Evocation d'un jour d'angoisse (evocation of a day of anguish) opens with a delicately yearning melody, whilst the 12th, Seul... (alone...) has a tranquil and affirming major key ending, and yet there is a strong element of restlessness and obsession in both numbers, captured well by Rubacktye.

Vladigerov's Passion, the 8th of his Impressions Op.9, builds upon a motif of chordal semiquavers, rising and falling in close, spice-laden harmony. The title is one of the most apt I know and I could wax lyrical about glorious outpourings of overwhelming unrestrained emotion... but I won't. Suffice it to say that this is a real gem from the “Rachmaninov of the Balkans” (a description from the notes to Cyprien Katsaris' Elective affinities CD in which he places this piece alongside Gershwin's the Man I love) (Piano21 P21055N). Hirose, who has recorded with Katsaris, gives it a suitably impassioned performance. The Alkan Nocturne – le grillon (the cricket), that follows it is slightly odd (this is Alkan after all); the gentle rocking of the night song interrupted by the chirrups of the cricket and a pulsing, syncopated central section – depicting the musician's torment at his uninvited duet partner perhaps – is cleverly done but maybe not for everyone. Twee was the first word that sprang to my mind but repeated hearings have convinced me that Alkan has added another dimension to what could have been just a pleasant piece.

Reynaldo Hahn's le Rossignol éperdu consists of 53 short pieces collected under the unusual name of the distressed Nightingale (or bewildered or despairing), a title that Hahn left unexplained. No matter, if the extracts here are characteristic then the whole cycle is worth hearing. Piquant harmonies accompany the gentle swelling of the little Mediterranean boat in en caïque and Hahn's lyric gift is to the fore in Adieux au soir tombant, a delightful soprano/tenor duet.

This cycle is dwarfed by Piano World, Valery Arzumanov's 400 strong collection. Listening to the first three of these I was thinking modern folk-song – pleasant enough tunes but not something I would return to often. The energetic final number is more engaging though its 58-4 time-signature seems a needless eccentricity.

The exciting rhythms and sharp contrasts of the Prélude in E minor from the set of 24 entitled Songs from the Bukovina by Leonid Desyatnikov make me want to hear more of this music. Lukas Geniušas played ten from the set in his programme and to be honest I would have preferred to hear more of these than the Arzumanov works.

Simon Callaghan's performance of two extracts from Nicodé's Ein Liebesleben (A life of love) is exquisite, perfectly suiting these exceedingly well crafted miniatures. There may be shades of Schumann and Mendelssohn but when music is created to such marvellous effect it is difficult to complain. Callaghan's CD of Nicodé's music is certainly on my wish-list (Hyperion CDA68269 review)

If Schumann inspires the music of Nicodé then it is the spirit of Schubert that hovers over the opening theme of the exciting final movement of Robert Fuchs' Sonata 1 Op.19. It is a pleasant work but I found that its quieter moments needed more lyrical and harmonic interest. Ingrid Marsoner plays it with cool aplomb, unfazed by its many octave passages but I yearned for a bigger, more outgoing approach.

I confess that I have a soft spot for the piano miniatures of Anton Arensky and enjoyed this performance of one that I hadn't previously heard, the Intermezzo from the 24 Morceaux caractéristiques Op.36.

The disc ends with four entertaining and varied selections from Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi. Three are of transcriptions by Sardinian-born Robert Piana; firstly a suave transcription of Rachmaninov’s familiar Vocalise, an engagingly edgy version of a Neapolitan song La Rosa and ending with Piazzolla's Libertango in which Pompa-Baldi expands upon Piana's arrangement. Between these lies perhaps my favourite discovery from this disc, the Sérénade from Gabriel Grovlez's 7 movement suite Fancies. Grovlez, a pupil of Fauré amongst others was a name that I knew from childhood piano exams (I forget the work) but I am delighted to be reacquainted. The Sérénade is an effective evocation of Spain with choice harmonic twists and strummed guitars in its smokier central section. An attractive encore for any pianist.

Once again this wonderful festival in a quiet little town on the coast of Germany has shown us the regular piano repertoire is just the tip of an enormous iceberg and I for one am grateful that at least some of its surprises are released for those of us unable to visit the Festival in person. I heartily concur with John France in his review of this CD in asking for double CDs; there is certainly the quantity and quality of material to fill more than one disc and I believe that nowadays the audience is there too.

A disc jam-packed with piano discoveries and joyous music-making.

Rob Challinor
Previous review: John France

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Ballade (1903)[6:34]
Fabian Müller (piano)
Gabriel DUPONT (1878-1914) from La maison dans les dunes (1910)
1. Dans les dunes par un clair matin [3:13]
10. Houles [7:14]
Severin von Eckardstein (piano)
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937) from 12 Préludes Op.36 (1914/15)
7. Evocation d'un jour d'angoisse [4:54]
12. Seul... [3:50]
Muza Rubacktye (piano)
Pancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978) from 10 Impressions Op.9 (1920)
8. Passion [4:39]
Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888) Le Grillon, Nocturne 4 Op.60 bis (1859)[5:26]
Etsuko Hirose
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947) from Le Rossignol éperdu (1912)
31. En caïque [3:25]
51. Adieux au soir tombant [2:33]
Valery ARZUMANOV (b.1944) from 27 Pieces for piano Op.74 (1985)
To a brighter future [1:42]
Forgotten and abandoned [1:58]
Dedication to Mahler [1:44]
Before the exam [1:18]
Leonid DESYATNIKOV (b.1955) from Songs from the Bukovina; 24 Préludes (2017)
Prélude in E minor [1:42]
Lukas Geniušas (piano)
Jean Louis NICODÉ (1853-1919) from Ein Liebesleben Op.22 (1880)
6. Reue [1:48]
8. Erinnerung [1:35]
Simon Callaghan (piano)
Robert FUCHS (1847-1927) from Sonata 1 in G flat major Op.19 (1877)
4. Allegro molto – quasi presto [6:03]
Ingrid Marsoner (piano)
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906) from 24 Morceaux caractéristiques Op.36 (1894)
12. Intermezzo [2:54]
Sina Kloke (piano)
Sergei RAKHMANINOV (1873-1943) arr. Roberto PIANA (b.1971)
Vocalise Op.34 No. 14 (1912- rev. 1915) [6:24]
arr. Roberto PIANA La Rosa [2:16]
Gabriel GROVLEZ (1879-1944) Sérénade from Fancies (1915)[3:18]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) arr. Roberto PIANA and Antonio POMPA-BALDI (b.1974)
Libertango (1974)[3:17]
Antonio pompa-Baldi (piano)