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Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Trois Morceaux op.34 (1884), no.1 Valse [7:55]
Frühling: Fünf Stücke op.57 (1896), no.4, Zephyr [3:28]; no.5, Liebeswalzer [5:31]
Quinze Études de Virtuosité op.72 (1903), no.13, Étude in A flat minor [4:01]
Sechs Fantasiestücke op.52 (1893), no.3, Zwiegesang (Duo) [2:26]; no.4, Die Jongleurin [1:44]
Huit Morceaux Caractéristiques op.36, (1886), no.4 En Automne [2:38]; no.6 Étincelles [2:50]
Drei Klavierstücke in Tanzform op.17, (1878) no.1, Polonaise [8:48]
Zwei Klavierstücke op.45 (1888), no.2 Guitarre [3:21]
Caprice espagnol op. 37 (1885) [6:58]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Isolde’s Death Scene from Tristan und Isolde (1914, arr. Moszkowski) [7:58]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Barcarolle from the Tales of Hoffmann (c.1895, arr. Moszkowski) [7:30]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen: Chanson bohème (arr. Moszkowski) [7:07]
Etsuko Hirose (piano)
rec. 2019, Église Évangélique Saint-Marcel, Paris

I didn’t know much about Moritz Moszkowski before reviewing this CD. I guess that for most enthusiasts of piano music his name has cropped up here and there at recitals whether in the concert room or on LPs and CDs. One album that did bring him to my attention was the very first volume of Hyperion’s remarkable survey of ‘The Romantic Piano Concerto.’ (CDA66452) This disc included Moszkowski’s Piano Concerto in E major, op.59 coupled with Jan Paderewski’s A minor, op.17. Both these works have remained amongst my firm favourites. One last point: many years ago, probably nearly fifty, I inherited some sheet music from a neighbour. Amongst the yellowing paper, there was a good copy of Moszkowski’s Spanish Dances for solo piano. They were beyond my Grade 5¼, but I was able to play bits of them…

A few biographical pointers may help. Moritz Moszkowski was born on 23 August 1854 in Breslau (now Wrocław) which is part Lower Silesia in Poland but was then a part of Germany. His musical education included time at the Dresden Conservatory and study with Eduard Franck and Theodor Kullak in Berlin. Moszkowski taught at Kullak’s Conservatory for several years. Initially establishing his career as a pianist in Berlin in 1873, he toured extensively and soon became fully established as one of the most significant virtuosos of his day.  In the 1880s he suffered from a neurological problem in his right arm, which limited his playing. He moved his residence to Paris in 1897 where he taught music.

Moszkowski composed a deal of music, including the above-mentioned piano concerto, a violin concerto, a symphony and a tone poem based on the life of Jeanne d’Arc.  There is also a considerable body of piano solos, including waltzes, studies and many character pieces. He regularly made transcriptions of other composers’ music. Unable to come to terms with modern trends in music, he considered Scriabin, Schoenberg and Debussy as ‘artistic madmen.’ Moszkowski’s own work is often disparagingly described as ‘mere salon music’; this is probably one of the reasons that his once hugely popular compositions have been largely forgotten.  He died in Paris on 4 March 1925.

The recital opens with what is probably Moszkowski’s best known piece, the ‘Valse’ from the Trois Morceaux op.34 written in 1884. The liner notes point out that this piece is characterised by its ‘seriousness and its poetry’. After a ghostly introduction, a Waltz, so typical of a nineteenth century ball, emerges. It has one of those half-remembered tunes that listeners seem to have known all their lives but cannot quite place.

‘Zephyrs’ epitomises the sort of character piece written for the ‘salon’ in the late-nineteenth century. The music balances a gentle breeze with something just a little bit squallier. Its companion piece from the Frühling: Fünf Stücke op.57 (1896) is a gorgeous little ‘love-waltz.’ Probably regarded as kitsch in 2020, this is another romantic piece casting a backward glance at happy days long past.

All Moszkowski’s music sounds difficult. However, the Quinze Études de Virtuosité op.72 composed in 1903 push the boundaries to near-impossible. Study No.13 is written in the incredibly difficult key of A flat minor (7 flats), but with lots added chromatic notes and remote modulations for extra difficulty. The long passages of double notes in the right hand that is required to be played ‘piano con leggierezza’ makes huge demands on the soloist’s skill.  The liner notes are correct in likening this Étude to Franz Liszt’s ‘Feux Follets’ from his monumental Transcendental Studies.

One of the loveliest pieces on this CD is the ‘Zwiegesang’ or ‘lovers’ duet’ from the Sechs Fantasiestücke op.52 (1893). It is perfectly idyllic. This is so much more difficult to play than it sounds, with the pianist providing the ‘duet’ combined with the sustained accompaniment. In complete contrast is ‘The Juggleress’ which is rapid, light-hearted, intricate and chromatically wayward.

Two pieces from the Huit morceaux caractéristiques op.36 (1886) have been included. The first, No.4, is a descriptive picture of ‘Autumn’ complete with drifting leaves and blustery wind. But behind this activity is a sense of sadness.  The second is ‘Étincelles’ (No.6) which translates as ‘Sparks.’ This piece has retained its popularity over the years and became one of Vladimir Horowitz’s favourite showstopper. As the liner notes explain, this piece ‘evokes images of flashing sparks, the extremely fast and ethereal passages require absolute mastery and agility.’ This demand is fully met in Etsuko Hirose’s performance.

The longest work in this recital is the Polonaise, op.17 no.1. This is a native dance from Poland that would have been well understood by Moszkowski. The present number is impressive and brilliant but has several episodes which are a little more reflective. This is an ideal concert work that would make a stunning encore. It is the first number from Drei Klavierstucke in Tanzform, composed in 1878.

Moritz Moszkowski evokes Spain in many works including the above-mentioned Spanish Dances. His ‘Guitarre’ from Zwei Klavierstücke op.45 no.2 (1888) is a great example of this flair. There is sunshine and Sangria in these pages of evocative music that parodies the musical style of the instrument.  Equally suggestive is the Caprice espagnol op. 37 composed in 1885. This work was one of the composer’s warhorses at his recitals. Full of repeated notes and the sound of castanets and guitars, this is a highly effective piece of dance music that is both brilliantly virtuosic and thoroughly inspiring. Roll on those sunny days at Benidorm or the Alcázar in Seville - depending on one’s inclination.

Etsuko Hirose has chosen to showcase three of Moszkowski’s transcriptions in this recital. All of them present ‘famous tunes’ by well-known composers. Apart from the ‘Can-Can’, everyone’s favourite bit of Jacques Offenbach is the hackneyed ‘Barcarolle’ from The Tales of Hoffman. The music eloquently sings of ‘the beauty of the night’ as seen from a gondola. Here, Moszkowski presents the tune in dreamy fashion and then provides his own development and variations to the proceedings. This piece is wholly romantic, appealing and evocative of the whole world’s idea of Venice. Turning now to Richard Wagner’s ‘Liebestod’ from Tristan and Isolde, if I am honest, I prefer Moszkowski’s take on this great music to that of Franz Liszt - and I am in good company: the liner notes cite Earl Wild as being of the same opinion. The transcription was made in 1914 and dedicated to Ferruccio Busoni. This is one of those pieces in which one can imagine the orchestra and not the piano, especially at the three-fold climax. The last ‘paraphrase’ is from Georges Bizet’s Carmen: it is basically the ‘Gypsy Song’ from Act 2 of the opera. There are also allusions to some other music including the ‘Seguidilla’ in Act 1. It is a highly charged arrangement that exudes passion and bravura. If I am honest, this is exactly how I like to hear my operas – by wonderfully effective piano transcription!

The liner notes, written by Etsuko Hirose provide all the information required to enjoy this varied programme of Moszkowski’s music. It includes a short biography of the composer, and a brief note about the soloist.

Japanese-born Etsuko Hirose began playing the piano aged three. She studied at the École Normale de Musique de Paris and at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. Her teachers included Bruno Rigutto and Nicholas Angelich. She has also ‘received the guidance’ of Alfred Brendel, Marie-Francoise Bucquet and Jorge Chamine. Over the years she has won many prizes, including First Prize at the Martha Argerich Competition in 1999, which launched her solo career. Hirose is in regular demand worldwide for concerts and recitals and she often appears at major events including the Brussels Piano Festival and the Festival of Piano Rarities at Husum in Germany.

This is a superb introduction to the solo piano music of Moritz Moszkowski. He is a composer who was immensely popular ‘in his day’ but is now in great need of revival. I can think of no better person to begin this resurgence than Etsuko Hirose.

John France

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