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Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2016
rec. live, Husum Castle, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, 19-27 August 2016

One of the joys of reading MWI reviews (and, indeed, writing them) is the opportunity provided to learn about composers and music never before encountered, so what better review focus can one get than a CD, providing a careful selection of highlights of concerts, from an eight-day festival devoted to uncovering rare and neglected piano music? Of course, a problem with little-known music is that its neglect can all too often be justified. I suspect that is the case for a few of the inclusions here but my effort in listening to the entire disc was amply repaid by some interesting discoveries.

Johann Blanchard is the first performer and he contributes a lovely performance of a splendid piece by Chaminade, her Op. 60, Les Sylvains (The Fauns), which I count as one of the disc’s highlights. The piece is very typical of this composer and it alternates a gentle opening melody with a delightful filigree idea.

There follow no fewer than five pieces performed by Severin von Eckardstein. Faure’s relatively lively Barcarolle No 8 is hardly a popular piece but it has been recorded several times before (notably by Jean-Phillipe Collard). Next we get the lullaby-like second Prelude from the set of twenty four composed by the well-known French pianist, Robert Casadesus. The set was dedicated to Ravel but this piece at least does not imitate his style and succeeds in sounding original – if definitely of Gallic origins. The Vision (Op.21/2) by Anatoly Alexandrov (not to be confused with the better-known Alexander Alexandrov) dates from 1923 and seems to have been influenced somewhat by Scriabin - its main sections have a 5-8 time signature. Pleasant enough but pretty minor stuff, really. Julius Reubke was a favourite pupil of Liszt but died (aged 24) leaving behind only a handful of works, including one for which organists are particularly grateful – his Sonata on the 94th Psalm. His virtuoso Scherzo in D Minor (of 1856) appeared a couple of years before the organ sonata and it is less adventurous harmonically but provides a welcome contrast here, sounding like Mendelssohn on steroids. Finally, Eckardstein gives us a brilliant performance of Wagner’s ‘Magic Fire Music’ from Die Walküre in an interesting transcription by Louis Brassin. I found the closing page of this, as the music ascends to a peaceful end, particularly affecting.

Zara Chochieva contributes pieces by Liszt and Medtner – the former’s Hymne de la Nuit and the latter’s Canzona Serenata. The Liszt piece was one of those apparently considered for inclusion in the cycle of ten pieces entitled Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses but the composer eventually excluded it for some reason and it was only rediscovered with the publication of the new Liszt Edition in the 1990s. Whilst full of typical middle-period Lisztian touches this seems to me to be not exactly out of the composer’s top drawer so, whilst some may disagree, to my mind this hardly stands out. The Medtner piece, although coming from his first collection of Forgotten Melodies is not exactly forgotten – especially since it shares its memorable opening theme with the closely-related Sonata Reminiscenza. Op.38. (Indeed, some readers may have heard this performance recently on BBC Radio 3). Its vivid cadenza-like central section provides a good contrast to the slow outer sections.

Next we get two Rachmaninov songs in brilliant transcriptions by Earl Wild, played superbly by Martin Jones. Again, these days these pieces are hardly unknown (and Wild’s own recording of them is still available) but they are worth hearing any number of times. I was particularly struck by the influence of Borodin on the first song, whose title might be better translated as: “Do not sing, my beauty”.

Hubert Rutkowski contributes two pieces from his predominantly Polish programme. We start with a simple piece entitled Printemps by the rather parochial (albeit greatly respected) Stanislaw Moniuszko, in an entertaining elaboration by the great virtuoso, Ignaz Friedman. After this we get the Nocturne Op.16 by Paderewski. This piece made me sit up because, perhaps not surprisingly, it seems to be closely related to the lovely slow movement of the composer’s excellent (and increasingly popular) Piano Concerto, Op.17. In this respect it may occupy a place in Paderewski’s output that is similar to the one occupied in Chopin’s by his Nocturne No 20 (Op. Posth.).

Like Czerny, the name Theodore Kirchner brings to mind the largely forgotten names on the backs of various bits of piano sheet music. Florian Noack contributes two short Nachtbilder by Kirchner, who seems to have been in the circle of Mendelssohn, Schumann and also Brahms. Inevitably his music displays the influences of such distinguished company although, for me, and contrary to the suggestion of the writer of the excellent booklet notes (Peter Grove), Mendelssohn leapt to mind rather than Schumann as an influence on the lyrical first piece. The rather more interesting and agitated second piece certainly does sound like Schumann. These two performances are the only ones on the disc which, I feel, do not quite maintain the standard achieved elsewhere – being less than ideally controlled and with, in some places, somewhat muddy textures – but we have to remember that these are live performances and the standard is very high

Joseph Moog provides us with pieces by Reger and Tausig. In spite of Reger’s occasional ability to produce beautiful and haunting music the bulk of his other output seems to me to justify his reputation for being dry, dusty and over-academic. The present ‘Larghetto’ from his Dreams at the Fireside is pleasant enough but it sounds like a pointless (and inferior) re-composition of Chopin’s Berceuse and it probably deserves its neglect. Similarly, Tausig’s re-composition of Scarlatti’s original sonata (K.9 in the Kirkpatrick catalogue) as a “Pastorale” seems pointless, especially when the original, normally played faster, sounds less cluttered.

If you like transcriptions of Mozart, that by Busoni, of the ‘Overture to the Magic Flute’, is a particularly faithful one and it is splendidly played by the duo of Andreas Grau and Gӧtz Schumacher on two pianos. (Apparently, their performance of Busoni’s 40-minute Fantasia Contrappuntistica, played from memory, was the highlight of their programme but there was insufficient room for that on the present CD so we got the more-than-generous encore instead.)

Another 2-piano duo offering that appeared as an encore is provided by Cyprien Katsaris and Héléne Mercier. Brahms’ slow Hungarian Dance No 11 is one of the less familiar of the set. To my surprise it was completely new to me.

Although Britten was a highly capable pianist his solo piano ouevre consists of only seven works – of which the set of four pieces called Holiday Diary dates from 1934, when he was in his early twenties. Artem Yasynskyy gives us two of these: ‘Sailing’ – an atmospheric piece that sounds as though the sailor is day-dreaming until a brisk breeze briefly whips up, and ‘Funfair’ – a lively and dissonantly interesting toccata-like piece. Both deserve to be much better known.

The final contributor is Simon Callaghan, who has made a specialty of the music of Roger Sacheverell Coke (and recently produced a CD of some of it on the Somm label). He first gives us the seventh of Coke’s Preludes, Op. 33 – a dreamy piece, reminiscent of something Godowsky might have produced, but not particularly memorable. Talking of Godowsky, though, Callaghan’s second offering also brings that composer/arranger to mind in Stephen Hough’s brilliant arrangement of “My Favourite Things” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” and this is a triumph.

One might expect that, when hearing a CD filled with performances by a wide variety of different pianists, the differences between the styles, technique and touches would be very evident. In fact, that is not the case here at all. Whilst the quality of performance is consistently superb (despite minor caveats inevitable in live performances) there is also a remarkable uniformity of playing style throughout and, given that the performances all seem to have been recorded using the same piano (either solo or as part of a duo) one could almost be listening to the same pianist throughout.

The recording is splendidly lifelike – sadly to the point that keen-eared listeners will detect some background noises of chatter. In places there is also a strange swishing, almost like the faint surface noise of a ’78. This afflicts the Casadesus and Liszt pieces in particular and is occasionally evident elsewhere. I am pretty sure that the artists are not responsible for it so it is something that the organisers might want to ensure doesn’t get captured in the Festival’s next recordings.

A mixed bag, then – and one which is just about sufficiently varied to be consumed in a single sitting. Although it contains nothing that really made me catch my breath, that which is unjustly neglected significantly outweighs that which deserves oblivion and this is a rewarding record.

Bob Stevenson

Previous review: John France
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944) Les Sylvains, op. 60 (1892) [3:38]
Johann Blanchard (piano)
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Barcarolle, op. 96, no. 8 (1906) [3:28]
Robert CASADESUS  (1899-1972) Prélude, op. 5 no. 2 (1924) [2:09]
Anatoly ALEXANDROV (1888-1982) Vision, op. 21 no. 2 (c. 1923) [3:32]
Julius REUBKE  (1834-58) Scherzo in D minor (1856) [5:10]
Richard WAGNER (1813-83) arr. Louis BRASSIN (1840-84) ‘Magic Fire Music’  from The Valkyrie (1877) [4:24]
Severin von Eckardstein (piano)

Franz LISZT (1811-86) “Hymne de la nuit”, Harmonies poétiques, no. 2 (1847) [6:49]
Nikolai MEDTNER (1879-1951) Canzona serenata, op. 38 no. 6 (c. 1919) [4:05]
Zlata Chochieva (piano)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) arr. Earl Wild  (1915-2010) O, Cease thy singing, op. 4 no. 4 [4:06]; Midsummer Night’s, op. 14 no. 5 (c. 1982) [2:48]
Martin Jones (piano)

Stanislaw MONIUSSZKO   (1819-72) arr. Ignaz  FRIEDMAN  (1882-1948) Printemps, op. 28 no. 1 (c. 1910) [2:28]
Ignaz PADEREWSKI (1860-1941) Nocturne, op. 16 no. 4 (c. 1892) [3:29]
Hubert Rutkowski (piano)

Theodor KIRCHNER (1823-1903) Nachtbilder op. 25 (1877) no. 2 [2:38]; no. 6 [2:33]
Florian Noack (piano)

Max REGER  (1873-1916) Traumas am Kamen, op. 143 no. 12 Larghetto (Studie) (1916) [2:35]
Domenico SCARELATTI  (1685-1757) arr. Carl TAUSIG  (1841-71) Pastorale (?) [2:04]
Joseph Moog (piano)

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART  (1756-91) arr. Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924) Overture to The Magic Flute, for two pianos (1923) [6:09]
Duo Grau/Schumacher

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97) Hungarian Dance No. 11 (piano, 4 hands) (1880) [3:09]
Duo Mercier/Katsaris

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-76) From Holiday Diary (Tales) op. 5 (1934) no. 2: Sailing [4:33] no. 3: Fun-Fair [2:35]
Artem Yasynskyy (piano)

Roger Sacheverell COKE  (1912-72) Prelude op. 33, no. 7 (1938-9) [1:31]
Richard RODGERS (1902-79) & Oscar HAMMERSTEIN (1895-1960) arr. Stephen HOUGH  (b.1961) My Favourite Things from the Sound of Music (1959/1987) [2:48]
Simon Callaghan (piano) 



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