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Husum 2022 DACOCD949
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Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum, 2022
rec. live, 3-5 June 2022, Schloss vor Husum, Germany

It is always a pleasure to receive the latest Rarities of Piano Music from Husum. This disc is in the way of a bonus. It presents highlights from an extra three-day festival held this June. An underlying theme of this series was the French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan. I am not an afficionado of his achievement. What I have heard has typically been in passing.

Alkan was born and died in Paris. On entering the Paris Conservatory at the precocious age of six, he was deemed a remarkable pianist. At 17, he was touring as a virtuoso. Many of his works were for piano, and included studies in all the major and minor keys of great difficulty. There were also two piano concertos, many character pieces and a symphony. He was a highly regarded teacher.

Three of Alkan’s Chants, heard in the opening tracks, were selected from the five suites of Recueil de Chants written between 1857 and about 1873. Marie-Catherine Girod plays the Mendelssohnian Assez vivement in E major from the first suite. The liner notes suggest that the melody and accompaniment “range more widely in pitch” than the model. Ronald Smith, in his study of Alkan, remarked on its “bold, un-sensuous lyricism” which is “so essentially Gallic that it might pass for Fauré at his most ecstatic”. Clare Hammond plays the Andantinetto from the fifth suite. This number experiments with time signatures and with various expression marks in each hand. It is quite delightful. The third Chant, played by Artur Pizarro, is from the fourth Suite. It is to be played Appassionato, balancing lively passages with moments of hymn-like religiosity. Glancing at the score reveals multiple key changes, lending an air of restlessness.

The fourth Alkan offering is played by Marc-André Hamelin. Aime-moi, Op 15 No 1 is part of Trois Morceaux dans le genre Pathétique dedicated to Liszt. Robert Schumann correctly noted that the “middle part [of this piece] was unsuited to the title”. The overall effect is neither a love song, nor particularly “pathetic”. It is complex pianism, though, sustained for more than eleven minutes.

Billy Eidi presents a single extract from Reynaldo Hahn’s massive piano suite, Le rossignol éperdu (The Distressed Nightingale). In all, 53 pieces were issued in four volumes. Hivernale (Winter) is quiet and gentle: it is successful because of its general stasis, rather than movement. It evokes a crisp, frozen landscape.

Eidi turns his remarkable talent to Déodat de Séverac’s Les muletiers devant le Christ de Llivia (The Mule-drivers praying before the Christ of Llivia). This is the fourth movement of the suite Cerdaña. The liner notes give an interesting history of this Spanish enclave surrounded by the French department of Pyrénées-Orientales. The music itself is quite gorgeous, and seems to present an intensely moving lament, possibly reflecting the hardships of the time.

Mélanie Hélène (Mel) Bonis was born in Paris. She had lessons with César Franck at the Conservatoire. Fellow students included Claude Debussy. Bonis wrote in a variety of genres but seemed to gravitate towards the piano. Her complete opus for this instrument has been published in nine volumes. Everyone knows Sir John Everett Millais’s evocative painting of Ophelia on her back floating in the river. She is singing before drowning. Ophelia’s grief and madness were caused by the death of her father Polonious who was murdered by her lover, Hamlet. In her Ophélie, Bonis has created mysterious music that develops to an enthusiastic climax before sinking into near silence.

Jeanne Barbillion was a French composer, now largely forgotten. The notes say that there is no entry for her in Grove’s online dictionary. The two-part Provence was dedicated to Vincent d’Indy, who had taught her orchestration. The first movement is heard here: Bord de la mer, le soir (By the Sea at Eventide). Designed in the shape of an an arch, it builds in intensity from a quiet reflective opening that is recalled in the closing pages. This romantic and possibly impressionistic piece is a perfect evocation of an unnamed seascape. Despite the force of the fervent middle section, it is not a storm, just a squall. Hopefully more of Barbillion’s music, for a variety of forces, will be unearthed by enthusiasts. She is a definite big discovery.

Marie-Catharine Girod gives stunning accounts of Ophélie and Provence. Let us hope she develops her interest in these composers and issues further recordings.

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Sonata No 2 in F minor is presented in a single movement, perhaps reminding the listener of Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor. A robust opening, a gentle Larghetto and a fugal passage eventually lead to a set of variations, before a dramatic coda brings the sonata to a conclusion. The liner notes suggest that another model may be C.P.E. Bach, reflecting the transition from classical to romantic styles. This rare discovery is perfectly played by Kotaro Fukuma. Equally interesting is his performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s elder sister Fanny Hensel’s Introduction and Capriccio in B minor. After a quiet opening, which suggests a fugal two-part invention, there is a “flourish” of scales, before it breaks into the Capriccio. This is Midsummer Night’s Dream music that her wee brother would have been proud of. It demands considerable virtuosity, and is played here with brilliance by the soloist.

Clare Hammond now performs two miniatures. William Alwyn’s impressionistic Haze of Noon was part of an educational series published by Oxford University Press. That said, there is nothing pedantic about this lovely languorous little tone poem. It is followed by Fairy Knoll from William Grant Still’s Bells. Equally fugitive, this number has bitonal and added note harmonies as well as a little bit of romantic piano sound. Despite its title, it is not a children’s piece. The other number in the set is Phantom Chapel.

William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag, one of three Ghost Rags, is really a clever pastiche of Scott Joplin and his school” It is thoughtful, gracious and elegant. Marc-André Hamelin has recorded Bolcom’s collected ragtime music for Hyperion.

The two final tracks are performed by Artur Pizarro. I loved Portuguese composer Alfredo Napoleão’s Le rêve (from Trois Romances Op 45). This is a Nocturne very much in the mould of John Field and Frédéric Chopin. In ternary form, this dream rises to some agitation in the middle section before calm is restored.

Last up is the sensuous Un sueño en Granada (A dream in Granada) written by Catalan composer Federico Longás Torres. Although Albéniz and Granados would seem to be exemplars here, there are some passages which nod towards Latin jazz. For anyone who has been to Spain, this will bring back romantic memories.

A wonderful live recording, excellent liner notes and superb performances make this CD a genuine treasure. I never cease to be amazed by the discoveries of piano music made at the Husum Festival. Long may it continue …

John France

Previous review: Rob Barnett

Contents and performers
Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888)
Chant in E major, Op 38 (I) No 1 (1857)
Marie-Catherine Girod (piano)
Chant in A minor, Op 70 No 2 (1873)
Clare Hammond (piano)
Chant in F-sharp minor, Op 67 No 5 (1873)
Artur Pizarro (piano)
Aime-moi, Op 15 No 1 (1837)
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Hivernale (Le rossignol éperdu, No 52) (1910)
Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
Les muletiers devant le Christ de Llivia (Cerdaña, No 4) (1911)
Billy Eidi (piano)
Mel Bonis (1858-1937)
Ophélie (1909)
Jeanne Barbillion (1895-1992)
Bord de la mer, le soir (Provence I) (1926)
Marie-Catherine Girod (piano)
E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822)
Sonata No 2 in F minor, AV27 (c.1807)
Fanny Hensel (1805-1847)
Introduction and Capriccio in B minor (1840)
Kotaro Fukuma (piano)
William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Haze of Noon (1925)
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Fairy Knoll (from Bells) (1944)
Clare Hammond (piano)
William Bolcom (b. 1938)
Graceful Ghost Rag (1971)
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Alfredo Napoleão (1852-1917)
Le rêve (from Trois Romances Op 45) (?)
Federico Longás (1893-1968)
Un sueño en Granada (1937)
Artur Pizarro (piano)

Published: October 3, 2022

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