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Walter BRAUNFELS (1882-1954)
Variations on an Old French Song for two pianos. Op.46 [31:34]
Little Pieces for piano for four hands [13:06]
Bagatelles for piano Op.5 [22:07]
Tatjana Blome (piano)
Holger Groschopp (piano - Variations & Little Pieces)
rec. 2016/19, Olbergkirche & Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
CAPRICCIO C5361 [66:47]

When Decca issued their recording of Braunfels’ opera The Birds, back in 1996, I was delighted by it, and started looking out for other recordings of works by this neglected composer. That particular recording seems to have stimulated a wealth of further issues by Decca, Dutton, Capriccio, CPO, Oehms and Hyperion, and a substantial body of recordings is now available. This CD is the first of his piano music which I have come across, and it supplements the orchestral, choral and song CDs issued by Capriccio.

Incidentally, Hitler was so delighted by The Birds, that in 1923 he invited Braunfels to compose an anthem for the Nazi Party. He evidently didn’t realise that the composer was half Jewish. Braunfels flatly refused to have anything to do with the request.

Braunfels was a concert pianist himself, and the Little Pieces are study works which gradually increase in difficulty, but they are charming to listen to, and maybe were composed for home playing with four hands on one piano. Here, however they are played on two pianos.

The early Bagatelles are for solo piano and very short, usually about two minutes, the exception being the five-minute third Ruhig, warm which is a piece of lyrical beauty. The similarly lengthy final piece, Teufelei (devilry) is, at times, a rather driven affair interspersed with relaxing interludes which build up to impressive climaxes. Several of the pieces have unusual headings – Devilry, Ghostly Scurrying, Mischievous Grace, Somewhat Unpolished, Worthy of Liberty, and I have no doubt that despite the pianist Tatjana Blome making them sound easy, they are in fact anything but.

The Variations on an old French Song forms the longest work here, and dates from later in the composer’s life, around 1933. The straightforward tune played at the outset is called Au clair de la lune, which a has mildly erotic text, and the composer has applied his considerable technique to construct a pianistic edifice in which the tune is deconstructed to a degree so that, at times, the two pianists appear to be playing entirely different works but still manage to blend. In its original form it lasted over 45 minutes, but Braunfels trimmed it by 15 minutes before its publication. It is quite an entertaining work, and is presented here with considerable flair.

The booklet is well produced and contains detailed information about Braunfels’ life and the music. The pianos are well recorded in grateful acoustics.

Jim Westhead

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