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Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Complete Music For Solo Piano - Volume 1
Conservatoristen-Polka, Op ½ (1875) [3:39]*
Scherzo in B-flat major, Op 1 (1874) [6:50]*
Albumblatt, Op 2 (1875) [4:47]
Caprice in A minor, Op 4 (1875) [5:01]*
Hommage à Schumann, Op 5 (1875) [9:38]
Fantaisie-Impromptu in F major, Op 6 (1875) [9:39]
Trois Moments Musicaux, Op 7 (1875) [17:23]
Skizzen, Vier kleine Stücke, Op 10 [9:56]*
Humoreske in D major, Op 14 [9:47]*
Ian Hobson (piano)
rec. 9-11 August 2020, Foelinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, USA
* First recordings

As I have said before, I am very fond of Moszkowski’s music; it is full of good tunes, is frequently cheerful and generally bounces along very nicely. It also seems to be having something of a resurgence, at least in the recording studio. It’s great that Toccata classics are leading the reassessment of this composer with their ongoing orchestral music series and now they have started on the complete piano music, as well.
Moszkowski was a witty and clever character and liked practical jokes, so had his early “Conservatory Polka” published as Op ½ (in a similar fashion, Max Reger, when accused of being too prolific, published a short piano work with the designation Op 17523). Anyway, this isn’t a particularly distinctive piece but it is fun, slightly “ragtime” sounding and makes a good start to this composer’s works. It is well played with some agreeably witty touches by Ian Hobson. Then, not surprisingly, follows his Op 1, a Scherzo. This is more of a serious work, despite the implied joke in the title. The music here isn’t massively different in style from the first track and is perhaps not as amusing as it could be – however, I found that with repeated listening, the jokey nature of the work became more obvious. There are some clever harmonic touches, especially where it changes back to the home key at about 4’20’’. It is certainly a piece to put a smile on your face, once you get to know it. It has nothing in common with Chopin’s four Scherzi; this is very much a work from a later era and is again extremely well played.
Next follows the Op 2 Albumblatt, which starts with some very searching music before the main theme starts. It’s genial and has some pleasing touches, especially the ending of the phrase where the key alters from (predominantly) minor to major. Then, about 1’20’’ a very jolly, bouncy theme starts – more music guaranteed to make you smile, before a central darker section with some more sinister rumblings in the bass but again, with a searching atmosphere. The opening music returns again to form a fitting conclusion to the work. I can’t help feeling that this piece could do with a subtitle, as it seems to flow like a story. By this time, Moszkowski was obviously fully capable of writing for more than just the piano, as his Op 3 (see my review), the now correctly designated first Piano Concerto, is a very impressive work and well worth a listen. However, he reverted to solo piano for his Op 4 which follows on this disc; it is a very capricious Caprice. This starts low on the keyboard and quickly expands to encompass the whole keyboard. This is where Moszkowski’s style begins to become more distinctive – there is a way the phrases end which is far more in keeping with the later works, especially those I’ve reviewed here. The writing here is full-on virtuoso stuff and Mr. Hobson makes a super job of it. I really like this piece – there is plenty of varied music and the way it bounces around the keyboard is really rather splendid. If I have a complaint, it would be that the ending is a little four-square but it makes a fitting conclusion to a rather fun little piece. The Fantaisie – Homage to Schumann (Op 5) starts off in a sound world similar to the middle movement of the older composers Op 17 Fantaisie and, if anything, the central slower section (from about four minutes onwards) is even more Schumannesque. Overall, to my ears, this piece could easily have been a work the older composer composed. It is a longer work which initially relies too much on the opening theme but once you get your head around it, it flows well and the music is excellent. It is by turns boisterous and pleading – rather like Schumann and his Florestan/Eusebius moods represented in much of his output. The playing here is exemplary as well, perfectly in tune with the fluid nature of Moszkowski’s superb piano writing and his channelling of Schumann.
Then follows the Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op 6, which is nothing like Chopin’s piece of the same name (Op 66) but is more relaxed and far longer. If I had to liken it to anything, I would say that the opening is probably closest in nature to Chopin’s Op 29 Impromptu but only at the beginning and end of the work. After this vaguely Chopinesque opening tune, which concludes with some capricious cadenza-like passages, it continues with a tender and fragile sounding ‘Molto cantabile’ section which is beautifully played and very wistful. There is some clever writing for the left hand here with descending chromatic scales forming a nice accompaniment to the right hand’s questioning theme. Following that, Moszkowski deftly ups the tension and cleverly builds the tune back up to that found at the opening of the ‘Molto cantabile’ section but this time in octaves and in a far more impassioned nature. This evolves and cleverly leads us back to the music from the opening Chopin-like material. After a quick restatement of that, the tune wanders into different harmonic territory and ends with some sparkling writing for the right hand and some virtuosic passagework. All this is marvellously played and recorded, and overall this is a rather marvellous piece, well deserving of a wider audience. 
Moszkowski seems to be most remembered (if at all) for collections of short works and on this CD we have two of these sets: Op 7 (which comprises of three Moments Musicaux and is nothing like Schubert’s D780) and also the Op 10 Skizzen (Sketches). The Op 7 set follows on logically from the Op 6 piece, which comprises three works, the middle being the longest. The first of the set is another agreeable-sounding work with a lovely lilting melody which, once again, reminds me of Chopin and Schumann combined. That said, there is a distinctive Moszkowskian lilt to this piece which was clearly part of his style and this occurs frequently at the end of the phrases throughout the work. It’s very well played and has a rather lovely wistful ending. The second of the set is strange and starts much more aggressively in nature, although somehow still manages to sound cheerful. The repeated chords at the opening add a distinctly dark flavour to the work, but that mood is quickly dispelled with a rather finger twisting tune which insistently continues before returning to the dark chords again. However, this time he varies the music and it wanders off into some interesting harmonic territory and grows even darker and more sinister before slowly brightening. The central section has some pleading piano writing before this too dissolves into something much more heroic (at about four minutes in). He then cleverly returns to the opening music, varying it to provide the ending of the work but not before a pretty coda which provides a suitably rapt conclusion the piece. The third piece is a little gem, set in F-sharp major but with a more agitated central section and a surprisingly abrupt ending. It is again a genial and smiling work, distinctively Moszkowskian and is here given a splendid performance. The booklet mistakenly bill this as a first recording of Op 7, as it was previously recorded by Elizabeth Wolff on a 2004 CD on the Magnatune label, entitled “Moments Musicaux” which includes Rachmaninov’s Op 16 and Moszkowski’s much later Op 84 pieces with the same title.
The Op 10 “Skizzen” are short and the appendix to the title even describes them as four small pieces. The first of these, “Melodie”, sounds like a song without words. Of special note is the semi heroic sounding closing minute or so which is really rather good; it packs a lot of varied music into the fairly short time it is allotted. Next is a really tiny “Thema” which sounds hymn-like and is wonderfully played. The jokey side of Moszkowski’s personality becomes apparent in the third of the set – a rather clever little Mazurka, full of interesting key changes. Again, this is nothing like Chopin but is a cheerful little utterance and really deserves to be better known. The final work is entitled “Impromptu on Sachs” – generated from a cryptogram derived from the name of the dedicatee of this set, Wilhelm Sachs and using the German musical note names. This is a happy little work, not too difficult and again merry in nature, providing a fitting conclusion to this marvellous short set of pieces.
The disc concludes with another longer piece, the Humoreske, Op 14, dating from two years after the opening work on the disc. It is dedicated to another neglected composer, Xaver Scharwenka, whose music is also well worth investigating. It opens powerfully with a bold, complex tune which quickly moves into a sinuous theme which meanders its way around the keyboard in a most interesting fashion. The rising opening theme is certainly an earworm which I have been unable to shift! In the following section, the music seems initially to be concentrated in the bass before it grows organically into something lighter and more capricious. There’s an almost fugal passage at 3’40’’ which leads into a lovely, more plaintive section. The opening music then returns in a varied form which is much more complex, then goes mad, bouncing jokily around the keyboard with lots of intricate fingerwork for the pianist to negotiate. More fun stuff then follows, with a complex chasing tune which seems to be trying to catch itself up. This cleverly leaps back to a minor variation of the opening theme which mutates into some capricious passagework for the right hand before a restatement of the opening theme, in full.  This then repeats before heading to a more peaceful minute or so before a madly virtuosic section leading to a surprisingly touching conclusion. To my ears, this work sounds very Schumannesque and, as implied by the title, is similar in nature to Schumann’s own Humoreske, Op 20. There is a lot of playful music scattered throughout this piece which holds together very well in this performance despite the changes in mood and key. This really is splendid stuff – why don’t we ever hear this in concert?
I have been hoping for years that some enterprising record company would get around to the complete piano music by this composer and, finally, Toccata have begun to grant my wish. It’s also very good that the music here is performed in opus number order so it gives you a good idea of how the composer's style evolved. It’s generously filled, the recording is bright and clear and the cover notes are very interesting. Much of the music on this disc is comprised of first recordings so there is no competition – although as the opus numbers increase, there will be from the likes of Horowitz and Seta Tanyel’s wonderful set of three discs from the 1990s (initially on Collins Classics and later reissued on Helios), to name but two.
One of the main things that strikes me listening to this disc is that Moszkowski is perhaps best known as a miniaturist, however, there are four works on here which - in this performance - are eight-plus minutes long, which to my mind hardly counts as “miniature”. It is clear that we need to reassess this composer, as far more than a composer of “bon-bons” and witty little ditties that last a couple of minutes. I hope that as this series continues, it will start a reassessment of this composer and lead to more public performances of his works.
If anyone is interested, there is a very short autobiography of Moszkowski available in English called “The Composer Moritz Moszkowski” by Lazaros C. Triarhou. It includes a recollection by the pianist and friend of the composer, Bernhard Pollack and contains many amusing and witty anecdotes from the composer.
Jonathan Welsh

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