Carl ARNOLD (1794-1873)
Piano Concerto, Op. 16 (1819) [30:05]
Piano Sextet, Op. 23 (1825) [30:22]
Torleif Torgersen (fortepiano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Rinaldo Alessandrini
Dag Anders Eriksen (violin), Jutta Morgenstern (violin), Hans Gunnar Hagen (viola), Ben Nation (cello), Greg Koeller (double bass)
rec. 2018/19, University Aula, Bergen
SIMAX CLASSICS PSC1344 [60:20]
Carl Arnold was born on 6 May 1794 in Neunkirchen, close to Bad Mergentheim in Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, bordering to Switzerland and France. He showed very early pianistic skills and in 1815, when the Napoleonic Wars were over, he was able to set out on his first tour as a piano virtuoso. He soon performed in Weimar, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Vienna and Krakow. In 1820 he settled in St. Petersburg, where he became the best pianist and pedagogue in the city, and soon he was able to marry the woman he loved. In 1824 he moved back to Berlin, where he composed several large-scale works. In 1835 he moved to Münster where he became music director and during a period of ten years he conducted numerous works, among them oratorios of Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn. In 1846 he went on a long concert tour together with his eldest son, who was a professional cellist. They went to St. Petersburg and the following year to Stockholm, Gothenburg ans Kristiania (today Oslo). They had planned to continue to Copenhagen, but the audiences and musicians in Kristiania didn’t want him to leave and he was engaged as conductor of the Philharmonic Society from 1848 and from 1858 as organist in the Church of the Holy Trinity. Settled in Kristiania he systematically organised the musical life in the Norwegian capital, he founded the first organ and composers school and taught several of the most important composers of the next generation, among them Halfdan Kjerulf and Johan Svendsen. He received several prestigious commissions, including in 1860 a cantata for the crowning ceremony of Karl XV (the liner notes mistakenly say Karl XIV) in the cathedral of Trondheim. Since Sweden and Norway from 1814 were in a union the Swedish King also became King of Norway. Arnold composed almost 90 works, but about a third of them have unfortunately been lost. In 1874, a year after his death, Stephen Sinding, older brother of the composer Christian Sinding, made a bust of Arnold, which today is placed at the entrance of the concert hall at the old masonic Lodge in Oslo, the same concert hall where he first performed in 1848.
Neither of the two works on the present disc was composed in Norway. The piano concerto was premiered in Warsaw in August 1819 and published two years later in Berlin. The piano sextet was published in 1825, also in Berlin, where he had settled the year before after his sojourn in St. Petersburg.
The piano concerto opens with a long orchestral introduction with symphonic layout, until the soloist enters after a good three minutes. Then the orchestra is relegated to the background while the pianist displays all his virtuosity. After ca 8 minutes the orchestra present a march like theme, while the pianist returns with a contrasting lyrical melody which pretty soon is elaborated with literally cascades of tones. It’s all very showy. Torleif Torgersen is an excellent pianist and he makes the most of the music, and the crisp tones of the fortepiano are a pleasure to listen to. In spite of the virtuosity the music never becomes pompous. The slow movement is brief and solely an introduction to the last movement, which is built on a Russian folksong – something he probably snatched up in Poland, since his stay in St. Petersburg came after the composition of the concerto. This is dancing music and the aim is basically a further vehicle for the pianist to show off. It is all very entertaining, though without real depth. But make no mistake – the playing is superb. Stylistically we are in the footsteps of Beethoven, but it is decidedly Beethoven light.
This also goes for the somewhat later piano sextet. The piano is also here very much in the centre of interest, so much so that the work stands out practically as another piano concerto. There are more lyrical moments here than in the concerto, and the andante in particular is a point of relaxation with more ‘normal’ chamber music conversation – but still it’s the piano arpeggios that are in the foreground. The third movement is a thrilling scherzo and the finale is filled with vitality. Like the concerto this is stimulating and entertaining music and the playing in both works is beyond reproach.
Carl Arnold’s music is certainly off the beaten track. Besides the present disc there is – also on Simax – a disc with solo piano music played, as here by Torleif Torgersen, and I also found on Presto Classical an isolated sonata for clarinet and piano, but that seems to be all that exists in the present catalogues. But visiting places off the beaten track can often be rewarding. Lovers of virtuoso pianism will find a lot to enjoy on this excellently recorded disc.