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A Dream
Jürgen Geiger (piano)
rec. 2020, Bibliothekssaal Polling/Oberbayern
GENUIN GEN21726 [68:19]

When I saw the listing of this title it was certainly a dream for me. I am a confirmed piano-transcription-junkie and having collected recordings as and when I could I went into full kid-in-a-sweet-shop mode and I was not disappointed. Jürgen Geiger is not a pianist I have encountered before but he makes his mark from the outset; the first five tracks are devoted to his own transcriptions and variations and there are more later interspersed with transcriptions by other well-known names: Liszt, Godowsky and Horowitz.

The disc takes its name from the first of Geiger's arrangements, the fifth of Rachmaninoff's Op 8 songs, written in the year after he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. It is a short song of loss in which the singer sees images of his homeland and his friends only to realise it is just a dream. Geiger's treatment is a far cry from the original and some, not me but some, may quail at the vast tapestry of decoration that adorns this gently passionate song. I am reminded of Ronald Stevenson's comment when I played him In the silent night by Rachmaninoff; and who is the arranger? he enquired. I told him it was Earl Wild and he looked at me with that twinkle in his eye and said Ah, American! My arrangement is simpler. The same could be said of the Romance that follows it though that does have more overt drama in the original. As purely pianistic creations they are a joy to listen to, full of virtuoso arabesques without losing sight of the melody. Like Cziffra, Horowitz and Volodos before him, Geiger finds plenty of room for development in Liszt's collection of Hungarian Rhapsodies, specifically the 13th. Volodos and Horowitz's re-imaginings of the 13th and 19th Rhapsodies respectively seem to be an inspirarion behind this coruscating arrangement and fans of pianistic thrills will not be disappointed. Geiger's Variations on Weber's Der Freischütz is an entertaining mix of Liszt opera fantasies and the humour of Grigory Ginzburg's largo al factotum paraphrase. It takes two themes from the opera; after an exciting variation treatment of the Huntsman's Chorus Geiger introduces Agathe's second act aria Himmel, nimm des Dankes Zähren as a sparkling, vivacious decorative figure. Mendelssohn's song On wings of song, has been arranged many times, notably by Liszt and Thalberg, but Geiger follows Hungarian pianist/composer's Stephen Heller's example and expands the material into a short fantasy. In common with all three versions mentioned above Geiger makes judicious use of the three-handed effect, the melody ringing out between accompaniment and the variety of keyboard textures that adorn the piece. Left hand figures give the melody a darker, more sombre mood that contrasts well with the generally genial tone, a nice touch.

The Mendelssohn leads us nicely to three Schubert songs transcribed by Liszt in poised and deftly handled performances. Geiger's balance of textures is masterful as his clean pedalling and defined tone in the melodies. Godowsky's chromatically enhanced version of Schubert's popular F minor Moment musicaux is given a comically military march treatment with delicious underscoring of the many inner voices and grace notes. There is some stunning playing in two Horowitz favourites, the Carmen variations and his arrangement of the second of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. It would be nice to hear Geiger play these live – though I love these pieces, part of the visceral excitement of these pieces is the frisson of an audience and you are awaiting their reaction. That said, Geiger responds marvellously to their challenges and their sense of style. Geiger doesn't quite continue on the Horowitz trail but like the Russian he chooses to arrange a Saint-Saëns symphonic poem - Le Rouet d'Omphale, Omphale's spinning wheel, recounts the tale of Hercules as he is forced to serve as Omphale's handmaid by Apollo, holding the basket of wool as Omphale endlessly spins. It is a marvellously descriptive work, the music of the spinning wheel so prevalent in much of the music, Hercules' frustration at his humiliation and Omphale's teasing little motif. It doesn't have the devilry that made his more familiar Danse macabre so tempting to Liszt and Horowitz but Geiger recreates the score with faithfulness and aplomb, bringing more to the music than Saint-Saëns did in his 1882 arrangement. As an encore Geiger plays his own Tanz im Grossen Saal – dance in the great hall. It opens with an affectionate nod to Horowitz's Danse excentrique but soon makes it own way as a teasingly chromatic cake walk.

Jürgen Geiger is a Munich-trained pianist having studied with Michael Schäfer while at the same time obtaining diplomas in organ and organ improvisation. He is evidently revelling in this music and the disc is full of kaleidoscopic colour and texture as well as entertaining and inventive virtuosity. There was once concern that Vladimir Horowitz and Earl Wild would be among the last to really embrace this style of transcription piano writing but thankfully it has blossomed anew with fresh generations of pianists taking up the challenge – Stephen Hough, Marc-André Hamelin, Vyacheslav Gryaznov, Arcadi Volodos are just four fine examples – and I would unhesitatingly add Jürgen Geiger's name to that list. More please!

Rob Challinor

Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943) arr. Jürgen GEIGER (b.1976)
A Dream from Six romances Op 8 No 5 (1893)[2:45]
Romance from 2 Morceaux de salon Op 6 No 1 (1893)[5:50]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) arr. Jürgen GEIGER
Hungarian Rhapsody in A minor S.244 No 13 (1847)[9:23]
Variations on themes from Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz [4:29]
Fantasia on the song Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (1834)[7:05]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) arr. Franz LISZT
Frühlingsglaube S.558 No 7 (1837-38)[3:50]
Rastlose Liebe S.558 No 10 (1837-38)[1:51]
Der Müller und der Bach S.565 No 2 (1846)[5:20]
Franz SCHUBERT arr. Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Moment Musical D.780 No 3 (1823-28)[2:05]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen variations – after Vladimir Horowitz (1968 version) [3:58]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) arr. Jürgen GEIGER
Le Rouet d'Omphale Op 31 (1871)[8:37]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) arr. Vladimir HOROWITZ (1903-1989)
Hungarian Rhapsody in C-sharp minor S.244 No 2 (1847)[10:26]
Tanz im Grossen Saal [2:34]

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