Romantic Piano Encores
Kenneth Hamilton (piano)
rec. 2019-2020, Cardiff University School of Music
PRIMA FACIE PFCD160 [74:46]
The title of this CD needs to be unpacked, as Romantic Piano Encores seems to be a bit of a misnomer. Having attended many piano recitals over the past half century, I do not think I have heard any of these numbers played as an encore. There are no Chopin Waltzes, Nocturnes or Mazurkas, neither does Hamilton include Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, or any Rachmaninov Preludes or one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. There is no place for George Gershwin’s The Man I love or even Dudley Moore’s hilarious Beethoven Sonata Parody. In fact, there are four types of encores on this CD: Original Works, Masterly Recreations, Supercharged Originals, and Virtuosic Re-imaginings. Listeners may apply these labels as they choose. Dates of some of these pieces are omitted; I have included the dates of transcriptions only, not the original, where appropriate.
Take the first category: the CD opens with a beautiful recreation of Bach’s Prelude in E minor BWV855a from the Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Not only does Siloti transpose the original into B minor, but he turns the Prelude upside down. What, in Bach, is the bass part, becomes the treble and Siloti even introduces a new tune, yet somehow, the innocent magic of the original remains intact. It is heart-breakingly beautiful.
Percy Grainger takes John Dowland’s “mesmeric and moving Elizabethan lute
song Now, O Now, I needs must part and gives it a work-over. The first stanza is straightforward, but the second is given the full Romantic treatment, including freely adapted harmony and a short coda. It is quite simply gorgeous.
Charles Alkan’s take on Bach’s Siciliano (BWV 1031, Sonata for flute and keyboard) belies any criticism that this Frenchman’s music is lengthy or technically impossible. This is really a transcription of the movement, with the flute part incorporated into the accompaniment.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Fantasy on the Irish Air “The Last Rose of Summer” is in a slightly different category. He has used the well-known and somewhat hackneyed Last Rose to create a remarkable set of variations and it is given a welcome, unsentimental performance here. For information, the text was by Thomas Moore, the tune was traditional, and the original piano accompaniment was composed by Sir John Stevenson.
Little need be said about Percy Grainger’s lovely arrangement of an Irish Tune from County Derry, universally known as The Londonderry Air. The melody was taken from the Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland. The liner notes are correct in noting that the adaptation of this tune to Danny Boy, or the “lamentable burial of the Earl Fitzgerald as “disappointing.” The tune as heard here resists all attempts to sentimentalise it. I hope that I will be forgiven in stating that my favourite reworking of this tune is Charles Villiers Stanford’s Irish Rhapsody No.1 for orchestra.
Widmung (Dedication) is Franz Liszt’s significant transcription of Robert Schumann’s song that opens the great song cycle Myrthen,
Op 25. Schumann’s song was dedicated to his beloved wife. It is fair to say that Liszt goes over the top with this Masterly Recreation.
Percy Grainger’s Rosenkavalier Ramble (1922-28) is based on the big love-duet from Richard Strauss’s iconic opera and was completed at a time of emotional stress. His mother, Rose, to whom the composer was exceptionally close, had committed suicide on 30 April 1922. Percy had begun his Ramble before then. It is interesting that his mother’s name is included in the title. In 1926, Grainger had met Ella Viola Ström, who later became his wife. She was instrumental in bringing the composer out of his depression. Grainger’s Ramble makes an enchanting adaptation of Strauss’s “lush themes”.
The Colonial Song (1911) was Grainger’s "attempt to write a melody as typical of the Australian countryside as Stephen Foster's exquisite songs are typical of rural America". Whether this title and aspiration are nowadays politically correct does not detract from the sheer beauty of the song. I understand that it is not based on any found tune but alludes to several. As with much of Grainger’s music, it has been “dished up” in several arrangements for a wide range of musical forces. Listeners must recall that the Colonial Song was not particularly well received in its day. Thomas Beecham has been quoted as saying, "My dear Grainger, you have achieved the almost impossible! You have written the worst piece of modern times".
Ignaz Friedman’s arrangement of Johann Strauss II’s Voices of Spring Waltz can be classified as a “Virtuosic Re-imagining”. In fact, the liner notes are correct in suggesting that the Waltz King might not immediately recognize his own tune amongst some of Friedman’s dazzling escapades. What is most charming about this waltz, is that it makes the listener smile - no bad thing.
Edward Elgar’s In Smyrna is a rare example of this composer’s solo piano music. For me, it is a little masterpiece. The inspiration was a Mediterranean cruise made in 1905. Elgar and his friend Frank Schuster were aboard the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Surprise. A visit was made to Smyrna (now named Izmir, in Turkey). While docked, Elgar visited the town and the mosque. It has been remarked that this miniature could only have been written by this composer. It balances “the spirit of the East,” with the wistfulness of an Englishman and is one of finest miniature tone poems in the repertoire.
Little need be said about Lawrence Glover’s (no dates) transcription of Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Swan from The Carnival of the Animals. It remains (in countless arrangements) the most performed number from this witty suite, originally devised for eleven instruments. The liner notes remind the listener that Leopold Godowsky wrote the best-known transcription of this number. Glover’s version presents an honest-to-goodness “transparent simplicity,” compared to Godowsky’s “host of newly confected chromatics slither[ing] around the tune – either intriguingly or irritatingly, according to your taste…”. I like both versions.
Ignacy Paderewski’s “original” Nocturne in B-flat major, Op 16
No 4 is sheer heaven. Lacking the ornamentation of Chopin’s exemplars, this piece is quite simply an exercise in the performance of a near-perfect song, played rubato and supported by “rich and romantic sonorities”.
Sergei Rachmaninov’s final transcription was the paraphrase of Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby (Cradle Song
Op 16 No 1). It was composed in New York during 1941. Apart from the revision of his Piano Concerto No 4, it was his last completed work. The liner notes remind the listener that Tchaikovsky also made a piano transcription of this song. However, the two composer’s styles are not mutually exclusive. Rachmaninov’s reworking balances technical wizardry with the innate simplicity of the original song.
For me, the final track is the most impressive. The Russian-born, American virtuoso pianist, composer and teacher, Leopold Godowsky provides a remarkable “Virtuosic Re-imagining” The Artist’s Life Waltz. The model was completed in 1867, shortly after Strauss’s mega-success with The Blue Danube. The complete title of Godowsky’s piece is telling: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Johann Strauss’s ‘Artist’s Life’ Waltz. It is big, well structured, powerful and ultimately satisfying. Kenneth Hamilton has stated that the “over-the-top tendencies of Friedman’s Voices of Spring
are taken to their ne plus ultra (perfect or most extreme) here. The original waltz tune is subject to every form of Lisztian thematic transformation, twisting and turning, harmonic complexities, embellishments and sheer hyperbole.
Wittily, Hamilton, adapting James Bond 007’s cliché suggests that the listener must be prepared to be shaken and stirred. A tasteless piece? Probably, but who cares. It is a remarkable bit of exaggerated pianism that most will enjoy, even if they do not readily admit it.
The playing is stunning, from first note to the last. Every track here is a winner. For details of the soloist, see his entry on the Cardiff University
webpage. The liner notes are extensive and provide as much information as anyone could wish for. The font size is very small; I could not find a pdf file on the Prima Facie website.
This is a splendidly imaginative programme that interests, inspires and amazes. Hopefully there will be more from this remarkable pianist and his wide-ranging repertoire. As they used to say in the music halls, “Never mind the encore, just play it again!” These Encores will give pleasure and entertainment for years to come.
J. S. BACH (1685-1750)/Alexander SILOTI (1863-1945)
Prelude in B minor BWV855a (c.1912) [2:49]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)/Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
“Now, O now, I needs must part” (1935) [3:46]
J. S. BACH /Charles Valentin ALKAN (1813-88)
Siciliano BWV1031 (1870) [2:03]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Fantasy on the Irish Air “The Last Rose of Summer” Op 15 (c.1830) [7:19]
Irish Tune from County Derry (1911) [3:38]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)/Franz LISZT (1811-86)
Widmung (1848) [3:24]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-49)/Percy GRAINGER
Rosenkavalier Ramble (1922-28) [6:42]
Colonial Song (1911) [5:51]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-99)/Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)
Voices of Spring Waltz (c.1925) [9:39]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934):
In Smyrna (1905) [3:35]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)/Lawrence GLOVER (?)
The Swan (?) [2:09]
Ignacy PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Nocturne in B-flat major, Op 16 No 4 (1890-2) [4:00]
Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93)/Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Lullaby (1941) [4:50]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Johann Strauss’s ‘Artist’s Life’
Waltz (1905) [14:55]