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Ernst RUDORFF (1840-1916)
Sextet Op.5 (1865) [29:24]
Six Piano Pieces, Op.52 (1909) [15:30]
Three Romances for piano, Op.48 (1906) [11:02]
Capriccio appassionata for piano, Op.49 (1907) [4:39]
Concert-etude for piano, Op.29 Nos 1 and 2 (pub 1880) [6:21]
Romance for violin and piano, Op.41 (pub 1892) [9:14]
Berolina Ensemble; Viller Valbonesi (piano)
rec. 2014, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster

Berlin-born Ernst Rudorff studied in Leipzig with Reinecke, Julius Rietz and Ferdinand David and was later appointed by Joseph Joachim as first professor of piano at the new College of Music in Charlottenberg, in Berlin. He spent fully 41 years teaching there until his retirement in 1910. The position was a distinguished one. Joachim had tried to enlist Brahms to take it but on his refusal turned instead to the thorny question of Carl Tausig or Rudorff. Posterity might suggest Tausig, but Joachim sided with interpretation over virtuosity. Virtuosically-inclined pupils, such as Leopold Godowsky, tended to leave his classes quickly.

His unfortunate statements regarding Chopin – whom he dismissed as a salon composer – give some indication as to where he stood compositionally. The Sextet was written in 1865 and it’s surely no coincidence that it shares the same instrumentation – three violins, viola, two cellos – as that of his erstwhile teacher David’s Sextet, Op.38 written a few years earlier. With its amiable disposition and its Schumannesque character – Rudorff was a firm friend of Clara Schumann and his first teacher was Robert Schumann’s brother-in-law – it’s very competently laid out. Some of the first movement development material is a little stormier than one might have anticipated and the slow movement – a theme with seven variations – is songful and rather charming and leaves a good impression. The way the finale’s fugue steals in is rather covert and so one can’t hold a charge of academicism against him. It’s a rather successful work on its own terms and alertly and adroitly played by the Berolina Ensemble.

The remainder of the programme is largely given over to solo piano pieces played by Viller Valbonesi. The Six Piano Pieces, Op.52 are quite late works, composed seven years before his death, and imbued with a Brahmsian ethos. Though some of the pieces are, or are made to sound, rather strenuous there are elegant, lyric moments too. The Andante, the fourth of the six, is a highlight, the pick of the bunch, and it would make a fine recital piece. It’s convincingly projected in this performance. The slightly earlier Three Romances vacillate between the polar influences of Schumann and Brahms once again; a mix of introversion and caprice. Though he’s not especially droll Rurdoff can be witty in a grand sort of a way, as the Capriccio appassionato shows whilst the Concert Etude, Op.29, Nos. 1 and 2 show that whilst he was not the teacher for Godowsky, he did possess an ear for virtuoso writing on occasion. The odd man out here is the Romance for violin and piano, Op.41 – the violin is played by David Gorol, the ensemble’s first violin – which is pleasingly if somewhat discursively lyric.

There are fine notes and the sound quality is excellent. Rudorff remained a conservative to the very end (see review of his Third Symphony) and given that his music is little know it’s worth at least acquainting oneself with some of it. Parts of the Sextet and that Andante show him at his best.

Jonathan Woolf



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