One of the finest I have heard
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Heinz TIESSEN (1887–1971)
Piano Music Eine Natur-Trilogie, Op. 18 (1913) [29:35] Zwei Phantasie-Stucke, Op. 26 [5:58] Sechs Klavierstucke, Op. 37 [11:57] Funf Klavierstucke, Op. 52 [13:46] Drei Tanzcapricen, Op. 61 [5:15] Entartetes Weihnachtslied [2:08]
Matthew Rubenstein (piano)
rec. 2013, Jesus-Christus Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0291 [68:39]
The music and standing of Heinz Thiessen, a German composer, were withered in the aftermath of the Second World War. A native of Kaliningrad and a graduate of Berlin's Stern Conservatory he seemed on an ascending slope when his one-movement Second Symphony Stirb und Werde (Dying and Being New-born) was premiered in Essen in 1914. His pupils during the inter-war years included Josef Tál and Sergiu Celibidache. Tiessen's politics left him with short commons during the Hitler years but he survived. The post-War era left him with academic posts but indifference to his compositions.
The gentle hesitant musings of the first movement of Eine Natur-Trilogie (1913) (Einsamkeit) - is followed by a more romantically turbulent and mood-capricious Barcarole. The latter, in addition to deploying again the pensive half lights of Einsamkeit, includes whirls and moments of animation that flicker, glint and fall away. This is mercurial writing carrying the legacy of Chopin, the enigmatic side-slips of late Liszt and the beginnings of impressionism. The final Notturno tempestoso has the kobolds blundering out of their woodland caves. The sinister and heroic meet in iron-clad conflict. There are some stunning basso profundo moments that are weighed down with darkness (tr. 3 3:55). It's a potent mix and should appeal to those with a liking for Griffes and Baines.
The first of the Zwei Phantasiestucke - a homage to Schumann - is in more oblique language. This slips and slides into and out of harmonic focus. The second is more impetuous, a galloping 'reiter' at one moment. At the next our hero catches sight of some visionary eminence. He slows and then accelerates through to unadulterated victory.
Allegro I of the Sechs Klavierstucke (1925-28) has that same rushing hurly-burly spirit but there's more dissonance this time, even if it's not all that extreme. The following Adagio is morosely reflective. A fairy silver carillon that is Fughetta maintains a lunar lightness. The Scherzino combines casual sans-souci and a cantering pace. The Improvisation (No. 5) mixes a pianola engine motion with some gawky twists. The last of the six has jazzy tin-pan-alley accents.
Funf Klavierstucke op 52 (1944): Improvisation looks backwards and is more romantic and far less dissonant than in the set of Six. Zueignung is gentle while the music-box Scherzino flitters and flurries delightfully. A contentedly lulling Notturno spins moonlight in a Debussian haze. The final Allegro Ritmico with Stravinskian ruthlessness blows such dreams to the winds.
Tanz bei Amsels of the Drei Tanzcapricen (1960) is a music-hall foxtrot. Papillon is fairly heavy-footed for a piece with that title. These are stone butterflies and even if they can step it out they do so in pretty sturdy gum-boots. The final and very affirming Foxtrott is likely to have left its dancers breathless.
The Entartetes Weihnachtslied from 1937 is a gently misty and affectionate reflection on Silent Night.
The package is completed with a long and thoughtful essay by Tobias Fasshauer. This provides an introduction and plenty of detail about the pieces. I wish it had also trailed more information about Tiessen's other music.
These atmospherically performed and recorded pieces reveal a German composer with Gallic-Impressionistic sympathies. He was never a prisoner of tonality yet chose not to stray far from it either.