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Reinhard OPPEL (1878-1941)
Piano Music - Volume One
Kleine Suite, Op.26 (1913) [13:04]
Piano Sonata No.1 in G minor (1919) [29:04]
Fünf Stücke, Op.21 (1913) [15:08]
Waltzes, Set II (1932) [4:11]
Heejung Kang (piano)
rec. July 2006, Hurstwood Farm Studio
TOCCATA TOCC0003 [61:29]

Reinhard Oppel studied at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, where one of his teachers was the well-known pedagogue Iwan Knorr. Beginning life as an organist he developed an interest in musical analysis which led to an admiration for, and a lasting friendship with Heinrich Schenker. He served during the First World War, where he received some serious wounds, and subsequently continued his career as a teacher at Kiel Conservatory, later University. He composed and taught until his death from heart failure in 1941.
The story of how his works came to survive is a real page turner. His fourth and surviving wife buried his music beneath the floor of their garden house before fleeing the Russian occupying army. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 Oppel’s son returned to the house and dug up the trunk in which the scores had been kept. This recording, then, is the fruit of that labour, music that has, literally, been buried and has now been returned to the light in performances that sound to me – these are première recordings – wholly sympathetic to Oppel’s style.
The Kleine Suite was written in 1913 and is cast in five unevenly sized movements, all dedicated to his eldest daughter. There is a teasing dance, the grazioso element of which is delayed by a constantly lilting rhythmic insistence, and a genial finale The most striking of the movements is the fourth, a long and spare slow section, cleverly constructed and seemingly – whilst not over expressive – too intense for the surrounding generally lighter material. Maybe its heightened depth, though, is what gives the suite a sense of cumulative strength.
There aren’t obvious signposts as to influence, though I would say that he shows signs of having absorbed late Romanticism – Brahms especially – and also something of Reger. Passages sound a little like Schenker’s own compositions, which are not at all well-known and certainly not profuse but which Dirk Joeres has recorded recently. But they do seem to have shared a similar kind of approach to piano writing. The Sonata was finished in 1919. It’s a big, four-movement affair, strong on solid sonata form. Oppel quotes from one of his own songs in the Adagio, and amidst the noble trills and veiled melancholy one feels a hymnal shade. After an energetic, indeed emphatic Scherzo a slightly knotty finale unfolds – or, rather, a somewhat cluttered piece of writing that seems too busy properly to resolve tensions. But it’s certainly involving to the last.
The Five Pieces, Op.21 of 1913 offer a good contrast between drama and introspection whilst the drifting harmonies of the central piece, and its powerful chording, add depth still further. The last of the five sports oddly Bohemian-sounding cadences. There’s little sign elsewhere of this affiliation with Dvořák or with folklore. There are, to finish, three brief waltzes that form Set II of the Waltzes – Set I will follow in the second volume of this series. Short, yes, and also perhaps just a touch pensive.
There are excellent notes, and the performances, as noted, are warm, technically adroit and deftly pointed, and the recording matches Heejung Kang’s playing.
Jonathan Woolf