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Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2019
rec. live, 23-31 August 2019, Schloss vor Husum DANACORD DACOCD849 [75:02]
One of the joys of August is knowing that a CD of highlights from the previous years Rarities of piano music at Schloss Husum would make its way to my shelves. For those who don't know this is a festival set up in 1987 by Berlin born pianist Peter Froundjian with the intent of presenting a least a little piano music that was not otherwise heard. Froundjian's pianistic heritage was primed for this music, having studied with Gerhard Puchelt (1913-1987) whose radio broadcasts covered music by Ferdinand Hiller, Walter Niemann, Adolf Jensen, Wilhelm Taubert and many others, all worthy candidates for the festival's recital programmes. What must have seemed a chancy endeavour back in 1987 has given rise to a festival that attracts a faithful audience and no shortage of pianists keen to display the results of their explorations into the byways of the literature. Even after a little over forty years of actively seeking out recordings of rarities (and spending far more than I should have done!) there is always something on these discs that I have not come across.
A case in point is the first track, the Grand valse de concert by Georges Bizet. His piano output is small and I confess that beyond the Variations chromatiques and his transcription for solo piano of the second Piano Concerto by Saint-Saëns I had not heard anything. The Grand Valse is a delightful little morsel, an elegant and virtuosic salon waltz, not hugely adventurous harmonically perhaps but engaging nonetheless. Kotaro Fukuma plays it with great panache. I was also impressed with his handling of colour and tone in the short, nostalgic Hommage à Bizet by Theodore Adorno. Who would guess from this romantic miniature with its French overtones that Adorno studied with Alban Berg?
I might have assumed the melancholy Mazurka that followed this was a newly discovered example by Chopin had I not already noted that it was written by his pupil and friend Julian Fontana. It is a piece that would not sound out of place played alongside Chopin's in a recital; here it is coupled with an effective transcription of a Chopin song, Leaves are falling, by the Warsaw born physicist Karol Penson. Many of his transcriptions have already been recorded by Cyprien Katsaris, who played these alongside a selection of works by Chopin students. Next up is Mark Viner who is currently involved in recording the complete piano music of Charles Valentin Alkan to great acclaim. He has also recorded two marvellous CDs of fantaisies by Swiss pianist Sigismond Thalberg (Piano Classics PCL0092 and PCL10178 not reviewed) and here he plays a work he has not yet recorded, the Fantaisie on the opera Lucrezia Borgia. I have to confess that I love Thalberg's fantasies. He may often follow a general formula; extended introduction, melodies with increasingly florid and highly virtuosic decoration then the big tune divided between the hands as tsunamis of arpeggios swirl around but it works and he is extraordinarily imaginative in the keyboard figurations he employs, far more so than his contemporaries. There is some coruscating passagework here and heaps of devilish piano writing but Viner takes all this in his stride and frankly is a joy to hear, coupling lyrical playing with immense technique and balanced voicings even in the most strenuous passages. I hope that he finds time to record more Thalberg alongside his Alkan recordings.
Music by Thalberg's rival Liszt next but from his more reflective side on this occasion. The 1862 Ave Maria is one of several hymns to the Virgin he composed and is a straightforward setting of a piece by Jacques Arcadelt (c1505-68) with something of a bell-like nature to its accompaniment. It is pleasant enough and sympathetically played by Christian Nagel. Marco Rapetti shows a great interest in Russian piano music and has recorded Liapunov (Dynamic S2029 not reviewed) as well as the complete Borodin (Brilliant Classics 93894
review) and Liadov (Brilliant Classics 94155
review). He is also due to release the complete piano music of César Cui on Brilliant Classics. He played these two rarities by Arensky alongside music by Cui, Conus and Stanchinsky; Arensky's essays in forgotten rhythms feature logaedic rhythm in the first, long-short-short notes in a repeated pattern - in this instance a melody surrounded by a swirling left hand accompaniment. The fourth number is Sari in which ¾ and 6/8 rhythm interchange. Rapetti plays them very well; I note he adds some occasional judicious octave doubling to the melody of the first.
The festival now includes a recital given by “young explorers” and of the five who played three are represented here. Elias Projahn gives us a lovely, well contrasted performance of Walter Gieseking's transcription of Richard Strauss's Heimkehr whilst discovery of the recital for me goes to In the Ice-Skating Rink by Lithuanian composer Balys Dvarionas played by his countrywoman Onute Grazinyte. It is an utterly charming piece, opening with halting trills like the first hesitant steps onto the ice and soon opening into a very golden age waltz that stylistically reminded me somewhat of the Viennese Dances of Ignaz Friedman. The third of the trio is Kenji Miura. He played the second Mazurka by Benjamin Godard, a very different prospect to the Fontana Mazurka that we heard earlier. Like Godard's fourth Mazurka that Francesco Libetta played at the 2000 Festival (Danacord DACOCD559
review) it is a frothy, dazzling, virtuosic meringue of a piece. Another delight, albeit much more restrained, is the Romance Poudrée by Giulio Ricordi, grandson of Giovanni Ricordi, famed founder of the publishing company. It is a tender and heartfelt song without words that Roberto Piana plays to perfection. I could apply the same descriptives to Solöga – portrait of a girl from William Seymer's Summer Sketches though the harmonic language is different. In a blind listening test I might have said John Ireland or York Bowen; I will certainly seek out the other works in this set. Gustave Samazeuilh was a pupil of Chausson, D'Indy and Dukas though the overriding influence in his Nocturne of 1938 here is Debussy; here and there through this extended tone poem little echoes of La soirée dans Grenade can be heard though he is his own man and the beautifully textured soundscapes and passionate swells make me want to hear more of this composers output. Roland Pöntinen makes a strong case for the work. Medtner and more than a few hints of Skriabin can be heard in Anatoly Alexandrov's piano music. Clarisse Teo played the fourth Sonata alongside works by Xavier Montsalvatge and Vincent D'Indy and we hear the tumultuous finale here. I don't know the Sonata but it is growing on me after a few hearings; Teo brings out the startlingly contrasting moods and complex figures with ease though it was her dreamy playing of the meditativamente ma un poco piu that particularly held my attention. The festival has always hosted more recent music – I believe a performance of the Sonata by Jean Barraqué caused something of an outcry in the early years – and on this CD we have two short works by Richard Danielpour, an American composer who studied with Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin. Neither of these works is likely to raise ire in the listener. Bagatelle is a gently lilting waltz, one of a set of ten written for the present pianist, Xiayin Wang. She also gave the first performance of Danielpour's Préludes “The Enchanted Garden” in 2009 from which the exciting toccata There's a ghost in my room! comes; it is a vivid, driven work full of off beat accents and rhythms and breathless keyboard gymnastics...and that is where you expect the recital to end. But no, instead we are gently brought back to earth (or heaven on earth) as Bach's sublime chorale prelude Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ in the setting by Max Reger banishes these fractious ghouls. Personally I felt it was just a little brisk but that's just my taste; there is no denying that Marcus Becker plays it beautifully.
Due to current circumstances this year's festival has been postponed. The good news for all is that next year's programme is already planned and on the website. Despite the lack of live recordings from 2020 I hope that Danacord can still mark the festival on CD in some way; perhaps a collection of some of the highlights from previous years that there just wasn't room for? We can hope.