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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Concertino in C major, op.210/213 (manuscript, op.197) [23:02]
Second Grand Concerto in E flat major (1812-14) [45:38]
Rondino sur un Thème favori de l’Opera ‘Le Maçon’ d’Auber, op.127 (1826) [13:55]
Rosemary Tuck (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
rec. 2018, St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London
NAXOS 8.573998 [82:19]

Most listeners who know Carl Czerny’s music will think of him as a pedant. Just look at all those studies and exercises that used to be found in piano stools across the world: these include the Practical Method for Beginners on the Pianoforte, op.599, The Art of Finger Dexterity op.740 or The School of Velocity op.299. All pianists have probably had a go at some of these exercises. Whilst struggling to master these pieces, the tyro would surely deny that Czerny was man with a musical soul. The reality is very different.

For brief biographical notes, I refer readers to my recent review of Naxos 8.573688 in these pages. Only in recent years has the musical world is begun to explore his concert music. Record companies including Toccata, Hyperion and CPO have begun to make inroads into Czerny’s massive catalogue of orchestral, organ and instrumental music.

All three works on this new CD from Naxos are ‘World Premiere Recordings’. Furthermore, I guess few people will know these concertante by ‘score reading’ either. I am beholden to Rosemary Tuck’s excellent liner notes for all the information needed for this review.

The Concertino in C major, op.210/213 unusually carries a dual opus number. To confuse matters further, it was originally given the soubriquet op. 197 by the composer. Czerny’s publisher, Tobias Haslinger later published this work in two parts: the first movement as the Concertino, op.210 and the remaining movements as an Andante and Rondo, op.213. This ‘little concerto’ is hardly that small in the scheme of things: it lasts for a perfectly reasonable 23 minutes. The opening movement is quite naturally written in sonata form with a good contrast between the boisterous first subject and the more thoughtful second. The trouble with the delightful second movement ‘andante grazioso’ is that it is too short. The perfectly contrived mood is, as the liner notes suggest, ‘bewitching.’ All sentiment is blown away in the energetic ‘Rondo: Allegro vivace’. Except for a stately chorale at the mid-point, this music is all ‘happy ever after.’ The listener does not need to see the score to understand that this is perfect keyboard writing in every way. I would give a lot of better-known concertos just to possess this truly lovely music.

The main event on this CD is the massive Second Grand Concerto in E flat major, composed between 1812 and 1814. The liner notes mention that the 21-year-old composer began to write this work a few days after giving the Viennese premiere of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. Readers will note that both works are in the key of E flat major. Czerny’s entire work is surely a debt of gratitude to the older composer.

The first movement is big in every way. The opening ‘adagio’ nods to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, before moving on to the expansive first subject of the ‘allegro’ section. The long second subject is another one of Czerny’s choice creations. Rosemary Tuck is correct in suggesting that this ‘…seems to never want to end...’ It is like a vision of a snowy mountain illuminated in the midday sun.
My favourite movement here is the ‘andante grazioso.’ This showcases a gorgeous horn melody at the start, which is both memorable and haunting. The pianist plays this tune with increasing elaborations: it is really a set of variations. Virtually every note seems to raise the hair on the back of one’s neck.

The ‘rondo’ suggests hunting and travel by horse and carriage. Look out for post horns and galloping music. This is wonderfully energetic stuff that is full of interest and contrast. It is possible to imagine that Czerny has indulged in a little bit of note spinning in this final movement, yet the overall impact of this ‘rondo’ is one of joy and pleasure.

Overall, I am not sure if this Grand Concerto will ‘take off’. Certainly, it is unlikely to gain traction in the concerto hall due to its inordinate length, and its status as an unknown work by a relatively obscure composer. Yet there is so much ‘good stuff’ here that does not deserve oblivion. If I am honest, I reviewed this Concerto in three goes (each movement at a time before a rest), a thing I rarely ever do. On the other hand, it is an ideal way to approach this massive and slightly ungainly work.

The Rondino sur un Thème favori de l’Opera ‘Le Maçon’ d’Auber, op.127 was published in 1826. There is no way that we can compare this work to the depth of Beethoven’s String Quartets nos.13 & 14 written during the same year. This Rondino is a veritable lollipop: nothing more, nothing less, but a very tasty one indeed. The theme is taken from Auber’s first truly successful opera, which had been premiered at the Salle Feydeau in Paris on 3 May 1825. The liner notes explain that Czerny lifted the principal theme for his rondo from ‘The Round of the Good Worker’, music found in Act I of the opera. This is a splendid tune that survives being subject to a wide variety of twists and turns. Like all good rondos, this one has a good mix of vivacity and repose. I particularly enjoyed some of the quiet moments in this movement. Czerny has featured several short cadenzas to showcase the pianist’s skill. Altogether a charming work that would be well-appreciated at any concert where it was given the opportunity to impress.

The masterful playing by Rosemary Tuck (known for her CDs of William Vincent Wallace’s opera transcriptions and Albert Ketelbey’s piano music) is evident from beginning to the end. The English Chamber Orchestra are on form throughout. Finally, it is great to see that Richard Bonynge is on the podium. It is marvellous to hear this great veteran conductor, aged 90 next year, bringing so much vigour, life and enthusiasm to this music. More often associated with opera (think Joan Sutherland) and ballet music, it is interesting and satisfying to hear him tackle absolute music by one of the unsung geniuses of early 19th century music. Long may this relationship continue.

John France
Previous review: Philip R Buttall

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