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1892 - Reflections
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Nocturne (1892) [6:39]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Cantos de España – excerpts Op.232 (1892) [14:38]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces Op.57 (1892) [26:48]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Fantasies Op.116 (1892) [25:57]
Uta Weyand (piano)
rec. 2019, Museum Schloss Fasanerie, Eichenzell, Germany
ARS PRODUKTION ARS38308 SACD [74:02]

Why 1892? It all begins with a piano, a Steinway model B produced by the Hamburg factory in 1891. Alexander Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse (1863-1945) was a musical man; he played piano and violin and even had works published by Breitkopf and Härtel. He ordered the piano for his home, Schloss Panker in Schleswig-Holstein and it was delivered on 28th May 1892; the booklet contains a handsome photograph of him seated at the piano. After his death it was moved to Schloss Fasanerie, his mother's summer residence and which became a museum in 1951. The instrument was restored in 2015 and is now used for concerts. A little more about the piano appears in notes written by the Alexander's great-nephew Rainer von Hessen. The rest of the booklet notes, written by the late Erling Sandmo, tell us that 1892 saw the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes stories, the founding of Liverpool FC and the opening of the long distance telephone line between New York and Chicago. It was also the birth year of the works presented in this recital. The works are presented in reverse chronological order as far as the composers are concerned. The 30 year old Debussy and 32 year old Albéniz are followed by Grieg, now aged 49 and the elder statesman, Johannes Brahms in his 59th year. For Brahms the year 1892 is quite significant as it heralded a return to solo piano music after a 12 year interval.

Debussy's Nocturne is perhaps the least familiar work here; it was composed just a little after his Arabesques and Suite Bergamasque. Robert Schmitz describes it as “the immature seed” and hints of maturer Debussy are all here. The introduction fleetingly visits 3 keys though it is only five bars long while the main melody, haunting and melancholic appears in yet another key. The middle section, in 7/4 has a melody based around a repeated rhythmic pattern that becomes more harmonically advanced as it returns to the main tune. It is a beautiful work that makes a perfect opener especially in the ever so slightly distant and open acoustic of the Schloss Fasanerie. Uta Weyand brings a sense of space to the ever changing harmonies as well as some marvellous pedalling.

Albéniz published the first three of his Cantos de España this year and of these we hear the Prélude. Córdoba and Seguidillas were not published until 1898 but may well have been written at the same time. I was particulary taken with Uta Weyand's playing of the slower, quieter sections; the central part of the prélude and the hushed stillness of Córdoba with lovely legato chord playing. Grieg's Lyric pieces op.57 are not his most familiar though there is no lack of quality here. Take the first, the nostalgic Vanished days, a miniature tone-poem in which the lively dance at its heart is forlornly echoed in its outer section or the restrained waltz that is Illusion, with its gentle heartbreak. Secret has hidden depths, no simple mysteries here. For me it is the last of the set, Home-sickness that stands out with its heartfelt sorrow that never descends into mawkishness. As in Vanished days we hear the dance melody, the remembered sounds of home that inspire the sense of loss. Weyand captures this essence extremely well and as before it is the more tranquil playing that impresses most. Not that Weyand is not well equipped for the more extrovert music; the dances here sparkle and the climaxes ring out with passion.

The same can be said of the Brahms Fantasies though I found the last of the set, the final capriccio to be a little earthbound for my taste. Weyand lingers over the inner melody of the 6/8 music a tad too much though it is shaped beautifully for all that. The outer sections are big boned and virtuosic. I particularly liked her Intermezzo in E minor, the piano tone and phrasing added to Brahms' faltering chords to create a haunted ballroom effect, possibly quite appropriate for the recital in an old castle. The piano sound itself is generally very pleasing. There is occasional wooliness to the sound – the E flat un poco meno Allegro of the G minor Capriccio – but otherwise it is a well balanced sound with a ringing but not harsh treble register. Uta Weyand has produced an interesting recital that juxtaposes these wide ranging works well; it is startling to hear how fresh and original the music of each of these composers is especially as we listen to Debussy in his steps towards finding his own unique voice and Brahms returning late in life to the instrument he loved, still with so much to say.

Rob Challinor



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