Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Piano Music - Volume 2
Phantasiestücken, Op.5 (1871) [21:32]
Neckens Polska, Op.11 (1874) [17:55]
Piano Sonata No.2 Op.10 (1875) [29:13]
Mark Anderson (piano)
rec. May 2014 (Neckens Polska) and July 2015 (remainder), Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK
NIMBUS NI5937 [68:50]

Volume Two in Nimbus’ Röntgen piano music series continues the exploratory work of the first (review). With discs, from various labels, devoted to such arcane pieces of the repertory as his cello concertos, violin sonatas and string trios, things have never been set fairer than now for admirers of this genial and intriguing composer.

All three works in this disc are early, the first written when he was just 16. Even the big Sonata No.2 was completed when he was barely 20. One shouldn’t therefore expect epochal things here. If the works are seen in the context of his development and the influences upon him at the time, the music will take on added significance, not least in the light of his development in the 1910s and 1920s in particular.

Phantasiestücken, written in 1871, is a cycle of seven quite descriptive pieces built largely on Leipzig models. His gift for lyricism is already obvious and so too a liking for insistent forms and sequences – the dotted rhythms of the third in the cycle are nothing if not pressing. There is a Mendelssohnian flow to the slow movement of No.4 and as pianist and note writer, Mark Anderson, rightly concludes, the last of the seventh is very much in thrall to Chopin. The Neckens Polska, a series of variations on a Swedish folk song, followed three years later. The theme and nine variations might be termed fantasy variations, in effect, and shows a significant advance since the early Op.5 cycle. Characterisation is sharper, there’s more wit, and compression ensures that the music is alert and lively and never palls. The fourth variation skips along archly, whilst the seventh is lovingly crafted. The last variation unleashes a degree of virtuosity and no small bravura – though it’s the bardic harp-like evocations in this finale that linger longer in the memory.

The Sonata No.2 followed the following year and is cast in four movements. This sympathetic work has some intriguing harmonic shifts, a Scherzo with appropriately sprightly outer sections and some rich chording in the quietly moving, elegiac slow movement. There are little Scotch Snap-like moments in the finale, though, for all the local incident, this work lacks a determining sense of true character. One feels Röntgen rather treading water at various moments. Of the three works it’s, perhaps surprisingly given its date of composition, the Neckens Polska that leaves the strongest impression.

That the Sonata ultimately somewhat disappoints and the cycle of early pieces reveals too clearly the Mendelssohnian leanings of the young composer is no fault of American pianist Mark Anderson, who cultivates a warm sound and is wholly sympathetic to the idiom. Nimbus’ sound is generous, spacious.

Jonathan Woolf
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