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Carl CZERNY (1791–1857)
Piano Music - Volume One
L’Écho des Alpes Suisses, Livre 2 No. 1, Introduction & Variations brillantes sur l’air suisse ‘Alles liebt/Tout aime’, Op. 428 (publ. 1838) [17:40]
Impromptu brilliant sur un thème national suisse, Op. 429 (publ. 1838) [13:43]
Impromptu sentimental sur le thème ‘O nume benefico’ de lopéra ‘’La gazza ladra’, de Rossini, Op. 523 (publ. 1839) [8:58]
Élégantine ou Rondeau brilliant, Op. 136, No. 2 (publ. 1827) [7:42]
Fantaisie sur des mélodies de Beethoven, Op. 752 (publ. 1844) [17:40]
Jingshu Zhao (piano)
rec. 2018, Winspear Performance Hall, University North Texas, Denton, Texas
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0020 [65:45]

Carl Czerny currently has a firm place teetering on the cliff-edge of awareness. His owes this to his drummed-in status as a composer of a host of academic pieces. Surely Czerny had a place at the table when Vox and Candide were having at the European Romantic Piano Concerto. Since then his concertos and concertante pieces have dodged out into the full glare courtesy of Naxos (review ~ review) and Hyperion (review ~ review). They hold their place among a total opus list that runs to 861. Martin Eastick (a delver and skilled expounder of rare repertoire for many years: review ~ review ~ review), notes in his Toccata essay (the first in a Czerny piano series) that Czerny’s academic works amount to only 10% of his output. Bear in mind that there are eleven masses with orchestra and at least seven symphonies. Toccata follow their usual admirable practice of including a readable essay that could function as an extended entry in MGG or Grove. No corners cut; no shortcuts shaved.

This Viennese composer, whose life straddled the lives of Beethoven (his teacher) and of pupils Liszt and Leschetizky, is represented by the considered light-infused playing of Jingshu Zhao. Coming first is L’Echo des Alpes Suisses, which is in eight varied tracks. The music, the last word in suave pleasantry disturbed by brilliance, presents no obstacles to affection. The other four pieces include what amount to two tribute-fantaisies or Impromptus to other works by Beethoven and Rossini. The Impromptu Brillant on a National Suisse Theme explores a delightful but ultimately rather bland melody in a luxurious amble that gives a face to the piece. The Impromptu sentimentale from Gazza Ladra must have given the aria currency in many a drawing room and salon. With a handkerchief dabbing at the eyes, Czerny lights up this moment, and either foreshadows the opera house experience or was remembered when the aria was heard live. The Homage aux dames Elegantine ou rondeau brilliant strikes me as being as much about the ladies’ ‘bucks’ as about the ladies themselves. It has a haughty air. Minor-key storminess and determination rack the Fantaisie sur des Mélodies de Beethoven.

These are all first recordings, and should draw in a loyal following. Toccata provides an unequivocally good, strong and clear sound for Jingshu Zhao. Despite the recording date of August 2018, this has a surprisingly low number in Toccata’s constantly swelling catalogue.

Rob Barnett

Comment from Martin Anderson of Toccata Classics:

Rob correctly observes that this Czerny recording ‘has a surprisingly low number in Toccata’s constantly swelling catalogue’ — indeed, Toccata Classics released its 400th recording in March this year. But one of the very first projects I lined up for the label, even before its launch in 2005, was a recital of Czerny’s piano music that, for reasons I can’t now recall, didn’t come to fruition, and that early catalogue number, TOCC 0020, sat unused for over a decade, wagging a silent finger at me every time I looked at it. Giving this new recording that old catalogue number was a way of finally coming good on that earlier attempt to begin some small inroad on Czerny’s massive output of music. The good news is that Jingshu Zhao has caught the Czerny bug in a big way and is planning at least two more recordings, another solo recital and a four-hand programme. I promise to give them higher catalogue numbers!



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