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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Romantic Piano Fantasies on Sir Walter Scott’s Novels
Romantic Fantasy No 1 on Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, Op 240 (1832) [20:17]
Romantic Fantasy No 2 on Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering, Op 241 (1832) [19:14]
Romantic Fantasy No 3 on Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Op 242 (1832) [21:34]
Romantic Fantasy No 4 on Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, Op 243 (1832) [18:55]
Pei-I Wang and Samuel Gingher (piano duet)
rec. December 2019, Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Premiere Recordings
NAXOS 8.579099 [79:59]

Carl Czerny was a prolific composer with over 850 opuses and his discography has grown considerably in recent years, enough so that his reputation as solely a spinner of endless piano exercises and studies has dimmed somewhat. Naxos have done their own bit towards this awareness with recordings of his piano concertante works (8.573998 review and review, 8.573668 review, 8.573417 review, 8.573254 review) as well as some chamber and organ music. So it is good to welcome another disc of Czerny world premieres, this time music for 4 hands. These four Romantic Piano Fantasies on the novels of Sir Walter Scott were published in 1832, the year of Scott's death. Scott's novels were a great source of inspiration to composers – Donizetti, Rossini, Sullivan and Bizet are among those who wrote operas based on his writings – and Czerny's imagination was fired up as much as anyone's. He had already written shorter works based on The Lady of the lake and Ivanhoe and evidently had more to say, opting for the four hand medium and its denser orchestral texture.

The fantasy element is clear; each of the four features many contrasting sections and the themes of each section combine and resurface, all with brilliantly varied decoration and texture. Waverley and Rob Roy are both set during the Jacobite rebellion and the Scottish background is highlighted by Czerny in the themes which often have a folk-like feel to them as well as employing the characteristic Scotch snap, so valuable to all composers who needed to evoke Scotland in their music. Czerny goes further, using the relatively recently composed song Bluebells of Scotland, written by Dora Jordan in 1801, in his first fantasy and Logie O'Buchan and other folk themes in Rob Roy. It is hard to say how programmatic any of these pieces are; Czerny may have had a programme in his mind but it is perhaps more that he wanted to capture the plot elements and weave them into a satisfying musical whole. Thus galloping horses, battles, tender farewells and love themes all combine into dramatic musical portraits. There is clear pomp and grandeur in the central section of Ivanhoe, short-lived but vivid with its brilliant accompanying figurations and the simple song that follows is itself interrupted by a sudden change of key and a fanfare call to arms. Even this does not linger; instead of the dramatic battle we expect there is another folk-like melody, swaying and thoughtful.

Czerny obviously enjoys the fantasy genre; it leaves him so much scope in musical and dramatic terms and while there is brilliance aplenty here it is not often for display or pyrotechnics but rather for contrast. He is as likely to opt for a simple accompaniment and to change the mood from wild excitement to brooding melancholy at a bar's notice. Each fantasy, is packed with melody and harmonic invention and they make for a highly enjoyable listen; I have to say they sound a treat for the performers too. Pei-I Wang and Samuel Gingher are both based in Illinois and share an interest in unknown music, Gingher through his research into Historical piano pedagogy, focusing on Czerny and Pei-I Wang through her studies with Ian Hobson whose recordings include rarities by Moszkowski and Moscheles among others. Both capture the spirit of these pieces well and respond to the drama with enthusiasm and no lack of brilliance. Gingher has previously recorded Czerny Piano trios (Naxos 8.573848 review) and it is good to hear him and Pei-I Wang bringing more unknown works to light.

Rob Challinor

Previous review: Philip R Buttall

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