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

Fabian Müller opens this recital with a delicious performance of one of Claude Debussy’s lesser-known piano works, the Ballade, dating from 1890-1. It was written when Debussy was in Russia as piano tutor to Nadezhda von Meck’s children. Von Meck, it will be recalled, was ‘patroness’ to Tchaikovsky. Originally entitled Ballade Slav, to reflect the influence of Balakirev and Borodin, it was retitled for its 1903 publication by Durand. 

The work balances a lovely, if slightly repetitive, melody, with complex arpeggios and figurations. The harmonies are chromatic. The listener may detect hints of the melody of La Plus que Lente (1910).  It is a pity that the Ballade does not have a greater standing in recitals and recordings of Debussy’s music. One simple fact highlights this: the Arkiv catalogue currently lists 38 recordings of the Ballade compared to a whopping 411 of ‘Clair de Lune’ from the Suite Bergamasque

French composer Gabriel Dupont is quite a rarity. I recall listening to an extract from his piano suite Les heures dolentes on the 2017 Husum release, but apart from that I have heard nothing. Gabriel Dupont was born in Caen in 1878. After study at the Paris Conservatoire with Jules Massenet and Charles-Marie Widor, he had an early success in winning the second prize at the 1901 Prix de Rome. He manged to beat Maurice Ravel, of all people, into third place. Dupont had a tragically short life, dying of tuberculosis in 1914. He wrote music for the piano, chamber ensembles and several operas.

The present La maison dans les dunes (The House in the Dunes) was composed while the composer was convalescing in a sanatorium at Cap Ferret in the Gironde department of France. Some five years previously, Dupont had written his above-mentioned hour-long piano cycle Les heures dolentes, a meditation on imminent death. Having recovered, he considers the joys of sun, sea, sand and the surrounding landscape. Two pieces are given here: ‘Dans les Dunes’ and ‘Houles’ The first is a gentle ‘early morning’ stroll in the dunes which are such an important feature of Cap Ferrat, while the second is a massive portrayal of a stormy sea with a great swell (houles). There are echoes of Schumann, Liszt and Rachmaninov as well the French ‘greats’, Ravel and Debussy. Severin von Eckardstein brings contrast and colour to these musically descriptive pieces. I must listen to the complete cycle…

I guess that most listeners will associate Louis Vierne with his superlative organ music. This is still heard daily in recitals and cathedral/church services around the world. Unfortunately, it has led to virtually all his other music being side-lined. He wrote in a wide variety of genres, including a respectable symphony, much for chamber ensembles, songs and piano solos. Mūza Rubackytė plays two numbers from his Twelve Preludes for piano, composed in La Rochelle during the Great War. Both the ‘Evocation of a day of anguish’ and ‘Alone…’ may be understood in terms of Vierne’s depression at his blindness or it could refer to a fractured love affair. The stylistic language is largely 19th century (Brahms, Greig, and Liszt) with something a little more contemporary to spice things up. They are excellent and I would guess that the entire cycle, played by Rubackytė is worth searching out (Brilliant Classics, BT0916). 

Pancho Vladigerov’s ‘Passion’ from his Ten Impressions, op. 9 is one of those discoveries that epitomise the Rarities of Piano Music from Husum project.  I have never heard of this composer, despite being a listener who enjoys exploring the overgrown paths of classical music. It turns out that he was an important Bulgarian composer who lived during much of the twentieth century. He was influenced by romanticism and national folk song. A brief search of YouTube reveals a musician with whom I could do business – especially his Piano Concerto no.3. The present Impression ‘Passion’ was composed in 1920. It lives up to its title, which, I think, emphasises the emotional meaning of the word rather that the ‘suffering’ one.  Look out for overtones of Rachmaninov and Richard Strauss. It is given a wonderful performance by Etsuko Hirose.

I am not sure about Hirose’s second number. For some reason I have never really ‘got’ Charles-Valentin Alkan. Despite Busoni’s contention that he was ‘the greatest of the post-Beethoven composers’, I find that although his music may be absorbing, advanced, exhilarating and captivating, it does not speak to my heart.  ‘Le grillon’ was inspired by a chirping cricket and is a complex piece that belies the innocence of the subject. It is imaginatively and magically played here.

Fauna also features in the title of Venezuela-born Reynaldo Hahn’s massive piano suite Le rossignol éperdu (The Distressed Nightingale), composed in 1912. I guess that the ‘Nightingale’ in question may well be the composer himself. This was a gigantic project, set out in four volumes/suites with a total of 53 pieces. Lukas Geniušas plays a ‘mere’ two excerpts from this album. The first, no.31 ‘En caique’, provides a reflective picture of a day at sea in the Mediterranean, aboard a traditional Turkish fishing boat.  And the second, no.51 (‘Adieux au soir tombant’), bids farewell to the day at dusk. They present an enchanted mood. One day I will listen to the entire cycle, following the score: I think it will be an interesting adventure. 

The Russian composer Valery Arzumanov has written numerous pieces for his massive collection Piano World op.74. I confess to finding them somewhat insipid, bearing in mind that he was a pupil of the ‘advanced’ and ‘colourful’ Olivier Messiaen. Perhaps they sound too much like didactic music (which is not a problem). They just left me cold. ‘Before the exam’ is written with a ‘rare’ 58-4 time signature and is rhythmically exciting.

The liner notes lament the fact that there is only room on a ‘well-filled disc’ for one of Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov’s pieces from his ‘Songs from Bukovina’. It is part of a collection of 24 preludes in all the major and minor keys. This E minor one is vibrant and nods towards jazz and majors on folksong from the Bukovina region. This was a border state between what is now Romania and the Ukraine.  It is played with great enthusiasm by Lukas Geniušas. I am not sure if the work is entitled ‘Songs from Bukovina’ or 24 Preludes: the internet and the insert do not help here.

Jean Louis Nicodé was a Prussian composer despite his Gallic sounding name. The liner notes explain that Simon Callaghan played his ‘masterpiece’ Memories of Robert Schumann at the Festival. Unfortunately, there are no extracts from this work on the CD. I am lucky to have heard Memories and I feel that Nicodé has out-Schumanned Schumann. The complete recording is available on Hyperion (CDA68269). On this present disc, two short movements are given from his Liebesleben (A life of love), a collection of 10 pieces with gnomic titles such as ‘Repentance’ and ‘Remembrance’. Once again, Schumann is the exemplar, but that is fine. They are well-crafted, surprisingly profound and quite lovely. Callaghan’s performance highlights the fact that this composer does not deserve neglect.

The finale of Roberto Fuchs’ Sonata No.1 in G flat major, op. 19 is racy and imaginative. This composer is probably best remembered today as the teacher of Gustav Mahler, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Jean Sibelius and George Enescu. Brahms once wrote that ‘Fuchs is a splendid musician, everything is so fine and so skilful, so charmingly invented, that one is always pleased.’ These words certainly sum up this stylistically conservative little ‘allegro.’

Anton Arensky’s ‘Intermezzo’ is the twelfth of his 24 Morceaux caractéristiques, op. 36 dating from 1894.  This is a pleasant piece, which merits a greater accolade than Maurice Hinson’s designation a. ‘salon music’ There are hints of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov here, which is hardly surprising as he studied with the latter and was friends with the former. It is characterised by a wistful melody and attractive accompaniment. Sina Kloke gives the ‘intermezzo’ a suitably introverted feel.

This compilation from the 2018 Husum Festival closes with four pieces played by the superb Italian American pianist, Antonio Pompa-Baldi. Sergei Rachmaninov’s beautiful Vocalise needs no special pleading. It was originally the final number of 14 Songs or Romances published in 1912. It has been arranged for many instrumental combinations, including solo piano versions by Earl Wild and Alan Richardson. Pompo-Baldi’s transcription is satisfying and gently nostalgic, which is just the way it should be. 

An arrangement of the Sardinian folk song ‘La Rosa’ follows. This is given a virtuosic but also ‘restrained’ treatment by Roberto Piana.

Gabriel Grovlez’s L’almanach aux images (A Diary of Snaps) often features in the repertoire of the aspiring pianist. The two ‘images’ ‘Les anes’ and ‘Petites litanies de Jesus’ retain their popularity. Less-well-known is the seven-movement suite ‘Fancies’ composed in 1915.   Pompa-Baldi presents the charming ‘Serenade’ which exudes all the sunshine of a Spanish holiday.

The final work is pure magic: Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango is everything that can be imagined about this Argentinian composer’s exploration of the genre. The notes explain that the title is a ‘portmanteau’ word combining ‘Libertad’ (liberty) and ‘Tango’. It is supposed to reflect Piazzolla’s break from ‘classical’ tango to the ‘new’ tango for which he is renowned. It has been arranged for many combinations. As a piano enthusiast, I feel that this one is the best!

The liner notes by Peter Grove are excellent and give all the information required to appreciate these ‘rarities.’ There are no pianists’ biographies: they can all be found on the Internet. The text is printed in English and German.

This wide-ranging exploration of largely Romantic music is matched by an excellent recording, that allows all the nuances of the universally impressive playing to emerge.  It is a live recording, but there is nothing intrusive here from the audience. Applause is restricted to the final track.

Finally, many of the works presented on this CD were extracts from the ‘full works.’ I will repeat the plea in my previous reviews of the Husum Festival CDs: could we please have a doubler (at least), as there seems so much of interest that has fallen by the wayside?

John France

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Ballade (1890/1903) [6:34]  
Fabian Müller (piano)
Gabriel DUPONT (1878-1914) from La maison dans les dunes (1908/09)
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]  
Mūza Rubackytė (piano)
Pancho VLADIGEROV (1899-1978) from 10 Impressions, op. 9 (1920)
8. Passion [4:39]
Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888) ‘Le grillon’, op. 60 bis (Nocturne No. 4) (c.1859) [5:26]  
Etsuko Hirose (piano)
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947) from Le Rossignol éperdu (1912)
31. En caique [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 of Bukovina, Prelude in E minor (2017) [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 No.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 RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)/Antonio POMPA-BALDI (b.1974)
Vocalise, op. 34 no.14 (1912, rev. 1915) [6:24]
(arr. Roberto PIANA b.1971) Neapolitan Song: La Rosa [2:16]  
Gabriel GROVLEZ (1879-1944) Sérénade, from Fancies (1915) [3:18]  
Astor PIAZOLLA (1921-1992)/Roberto PIANA/Antonio POMPA-BALDI
Libertango (1974) [3:17]  
Antonio Pompa-Baldi (piano)

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