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Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2019
rec. 23-31 August 2019 Schloss vor Husum DANACORD DACOCD849 [75:02]
The annual CD of ‘Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum’ is always a highlight of my reviewing year. Each volume is guaranteed to introduce me to composers I have not heard of and music by more ‘popular’ composers which is largely unknown. This year’s retrospective of the 2019 Festival is no exception.
Georges Bizet suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Virtually everyone knows (and possibly loves) Carmen. Many people will appreciate The Pearl Fishers. The L’Arlésienne is popular too. Some intrepid souls may have enjoyed the composer’s youthful Symphony and just occasionally, the charming Jeux d’enfants is given an outing in the concert hall or radio, but turn to the fourteen other operas, the choral works, the songs, and the piano music, and I guess that much of this is a closed book even to enthusiasts of Bizet’s music. The ‘Grande Valse de concert’ played by the Japanese pianist Kotaro Fukuma is a great example of the composer’s art. Nodding towards Chopin, it is full of charm and delight. Theodor W. Adorno is known typically as a German Marxist social philosopher, musicologist, and cultural theorist. On the other hand, he did study musical composition with Alban Berg in Vienna. The present little ‘Adagietto: Hommage à Bizet’ is one of precious few pieces that he wrote. It was composed in 1927. There is a nod to the elder composer’s name: the notes B-C (say Bee Zee) are played ‘ostinato’ at the beginning and the end of this piece. It is a fact that Adorno was not normally a great enthusiast of Bizet’s music, so this touching piece is quite a turn up and it is perfectly played by Kotaro Fukuma.
Cyprien Katsaris’ contribution begins with Polish composer Julian Fontana’s Mazurka op.21, no.2. It is not hard to see that he was a friend of Chopin. This is a rewarding example of the genre. Warsaw-born professor of theoretical physics and composer Karol Penson specializes in piano transcriptions, which include reworkings of music by Bach, Schubert, and Brahms as well as several lesser known composers. Katsaris includes here the transcription of Chopin’s song ‘Leaves are falling from the tree’ (Leci liście z drzewa). It is an attractive setting of what is hardly one of Chopin’s most popular numbers.
Sigismond Thalberg was no stranger to the art of writing transcriptions of operatic music. His catalogue contains many examples of ‘Fantasies’ on operas by Mozart, Weber, Rossini, Spontini, Bellini, Auber, Hérold, Benedict, Verdi, Meyerbeer and Halévy.
The Fantasie sur l’opéra ‘Lucrezia Borgia’ (played by Mark Viner) is a good example of Thalberg’s craft. It is full of great tunes, technically difficult pianism and a sense of drama that may not exactly mirror the plot of the opera, but certainly gives a general hint to its content. The opera’s libretto was derived from the eponymous Victor Hugo’s play. It portrays the love of Gennaro for Lucrezia and his untimely death from poisoning. Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘highly improbable’ tale was premiered at La Scala, Milan during 1833.
I did not really enjoy Franz Liszt’s ‘Ave Maria’ (Chanson d’Arcadelt) played by Christian G. Nagel. I found it unimpressive, four square and lacking in interest. and I think it is Liszt’s music rather than the present performance that is lacking. Every so often, there seems to be a reminiscence of Vaughan Williams’ song ‘Linden Lea’!
Anton Arensky has a pivotal role in Russian music. He was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov in St Petersburg and would later teach Rachmaninov and Scriabin. His music is often inspired by Tchaikovsky but other influences included Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Chopin. The two short numbers played by Marco Rapetti are from his op.28, Essais sur des rythmes oubliés - Studies on Forgotten Rhythms. It does not matter if Arensky was a bit of a musical kleptomaniac; these are perfectly stated miniatures that charm and delight. Rapetti gives a dreamy account of this subtly complex music.
The liner notes explain that Elias Projahn gave a performance of Liszt’s massive Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H at the Festival, but he is represented on this CD only by a short reworking of Richard Strauss’s song ‘Heimkehr’ (Homecoming) arranged by the German pianist Walter Gieseking. Like the Liszt ‘Ave Maria,’ I found it insipid. One is conscious that it is well played, but it just seems to be devoid of significance.
I had not heard of Lithuanian composer Balys Dvarionas. Bearing in mind that he died in 1972, his music is remarkably conservative in sound. ‘In the Ice-Skating Rink’ is taken from his Winter Sketches written in 1953-4. The notes suggest that this could entitled a ‘modern Skater’s Waltz. Possible stylistic parameters include Johann Strauss and a smidgen of Francis Poulenc. Certainly, this is music steeped in 19th century Romanticism. It is characteristically by fellow citizen Onute Grazinyte.
Benjamin Godard’s Mazurka no.2 op.54 composed in 1881 is a delight. As the liner notes explain, this piece is more in the character of a fast waltz. It is well-constructed, with contrasting episodes, a few distinctive hesitations, and a convincing codetta. It is played perfectly by the young Japanese pianist Kenji Miura.
The Romance poudrée (A Powdery Romance) (1898) by Italian composer Giulio Ricordi was a delicious surprise. I guess the title would seem to lose something in its translation. The piece is extracted from the album Impressions de route and is a well-crafted little miniature that takes the form of ‘an operatic aria with melodies alternating between the treble and bass.’ The composer was the grandson of Giovanni, the founder of the great publishing house, so that is why the name sounds familiar.
William Seymer is a new name to me, yet he is one that enthusiasts of British music need to explore. I am not sure just how much of Seymer’s music is available in print. I guess not much, so this may be a task that is too difficult. Despite being born in Stockholm, his musical aesthetic (based on the piece recorded here) seem to owe much to Arnold Bax, Cyril Scott, and Fred. Delius. According to the liner notes, one of Seymer’s better-known pieces is the Sommarcroquiser (Summer Sketches), op.11, of which Solöga (Sun-eye): Portrait of a girl. It is ravishing in sound. Surely someone must take up William Seymer’s cause.
Frenchman Gustave Samazeuilh is a composer I can do business with. The present ‘Nocturne’ epitomises impressionistic music. Use is made of characteristic whole tone scales, enigmatic harmonies and a compendium of pianistic devices and timbres establishing an ‘impression’ of ‘night-time.’ The piece was a transcription of his orchestral tone poem, ‘Nuit’ composed in 1924. The score is prefaced by an apposite quotation from a poem by Henri de Régnier, ‘… luminous and secret night’ in which ‘time stands still, and passions are freely revealed’. It is a work I could listen to repeatedly. Roland Pöntinen gives a definitive account of what is my favourite work on this CD.
Anatoly Alexandrov created a synthesis of romantic Russian composers such as Scriabin and Medtner as well as being inspired by Richard Wagner’s use of leitmotiv and a fair helping of his native country’s folk music for good measure. Clarisse Teo plays the final movement of the Sonata No.4, op.19. Despite the highly charged romantic sound of this music, it was composed as late as 1922 and revised in 1954. The music is rhapsodic, optimistic and ‘richly harmonised’. The only problem is that as this Sonata is a cyclic work, themes that were initially presented in earlier movements are now heard out of context. I have never been a fan or excerpting from Sonatas: each movement should be heard in context. That said, Clarisse Teo gives a cracking performance of this remarkable work. The entire Sonata can be heard on Hyperon CDA 67328, played by Hamish Milne.
Two pieces follow by onetime serialist composer Richard Danielpour who has latterly developed his style to include a diverse range of influences including The Beatles, John Adams and Joseph Schwantner. His first piece is the sub-Satiean Bagatelle no.3 which was written as part of a multi-composer response to Beethoven’s Bagatelles op.126. The second is the up tempo ‘There’s a Ghost in my Room!’ – which is motoric toccata with ‘irregular accents and changing rhythms.’ It is taken from Danielpour’s set of Preludes The Enchanted Garden, which was premiered in its entirety at this 2019 Festival by Xiayin Wang. I was a little disappointed that this CD did not conclude with a ‘warhorse’. Don’t get me wrong; Max Reger’s reworking of J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude ‘Ich ruf zu Dir Herr Jesu Christ’ BWV 639 is a masterpiece in every sense. It is a calm and restrained realisation of Bach’s magical tune. It is perfectly played by Markus Becker - but maybe I am mistaken; this wonderful piece of music may be the ideal conclusion to a fascinating survey of Rarities of Piano Music from Husum. It lets the listener sink into a feeling of warm repose and spiritual security.
The liner notes (in English and German) are by Peter Grove. They give an excellent overview of the music, the Festival, and the pianists. The sound recording is ideal. Alas, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Festival has been postponed. The planned repertoire will be heard (hopefully) in 2021. In the meantime, it would be good if Danacord released a Husum CD next year, showcasing some of the music that did not get onto this year’s release.
Contents Georges BIZET (1838-75) Grande valse de concert (1854) [6:18] Theodore W ADORNO (1903-69) Adagietto: Hommage à Bizet (1927) [1:36]
Kotaro Fukuma (piano) Julian FONTANA (1810-69) Mazurka op.21, no.2 (?) [2:21] Frederic CHOPIN (1810-49)/Karol A PENSON (b.1946) Leaves are falling (1836/?)
Cyprien Katsaris (piano) Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)/Sigismond THALBERG (1812-71) Fantaisie sur
l’opéra Lucrezia Borgia (1844) [9:59]
Mark Viner (piano) Franz LISZT (1811-86) Ave Maria (Chanson d’Arcadelt) (1862) [3:35]
Christian G. Nagel (piano) Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906) 6 Essais sur des rythmes oubliés, op.28 (c.1893) no.1:
Logaèdes [1:54]; no.4: Säri (mètre des chanson persanes) [3:33]
Marco Rapetti (piano) Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)/Walter GIESEKING (1895-1956) Heimkehr (transc.
Elias Projahn (piano) Balys DVARIONAS (1904-72) In the Ice-Skating Rink (Winter Sketches) (1953-4) [3:29]
Onute Grazinyte (piano) Benjamin GODARD (1849-95) Mazurka no.2 op.54 (1881) [3:15]
Kenji Miura (piano) Giulio RICORDI (1840-1912) Romance poudrée (1898) [3:28]
Roberto Piana (piano) William SEYMER (1890-1964) From Sommarcroquiser (Summer Sketches) op.11 (1917-
20) no.3 Solöga (Sun-eye): Portrait of a girl [2:52] Gustave SAMAZEUILH (1877-1967) Nocturne (1938) [10:30]
Roland Pöntinen (piano) Anatoly ALEXANDROV (1888-1982) Sonata No.4 op.19 (1922, rev. 1954) 3rd
movement: Invocando-un poco sostenuto [5:18]
Clarisse Teo (piano) Richard DANIELPOUR (b. 1956) Bagatelle no.3 (2016) [1:59]; There’s a ghost in my
room! (from The Enchanted Garden, 2009) [2:30]
Xiayin Wang (piano) J.S. BACH (1685-1750)/Max REGER (1873-1916) Ich ruf’ zu Dir BWV 639 [2:18]
Markus Becker (piano)