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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Die Kunst der Präludierens, Op. 300 [116:26]
Kolja Lessing (piano)
rec. 2016-18, WDR Funkhaus, Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal, Cologne
CPO 555 169-2 [58:01 + 58:25]

Czerny’s Die Kunst der Präludierens or ‘The Art of Preluding’ is a remarkable collection of 120 preludes, many of which last well under a minute. This certainly makes for a different listening experience, but the more you delve into this collection the more remarkable these pieces become, and the more you come to appreciate the skill and artistry at work.

“With this Op. 300, Carl Czerny created a unique compendium of all stylistic facets of Western music from the Baroque to the Romantic era, an aural history of music in the miniature format of preludes with an overwhelming variety of characters, forms and pianistic invention.” Kolja Lessing’s booklet notes summarise and extensively examine the pieces in this recording, and his pin-sharp accuracy and musical astuteness bring each musical morsel to life, often with a great deal of wit and charm. This is indeed not the kind of recording you will want to put on for general entertainment, but nor is it a confusing shower of disparate musical aphorisms. Once you are tuned into the rhythm of the thing, you can have fun learning about and spotting Czerny’s little homages to composers that range from Bach and Mozart to Beethoven, Paganini, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and many others.

Each little piece, and some are indeed not so little, stands on its own, but there is an overall concept at work with regard to the collection in its entirety. Lessing points out that there is a possible nod to Bach through opening in C major and concluding in B minor in the final prelude, though more importantly the complexity and operatic character of the pieces develops as we move along in swift succession, so that the second CD averages something closer to 2 minutes a piece where the first would have to be under half that. There are some sublimely inventive pieces along the way as well. Just to point out one or two examples, there is No. 59, that modulates through every major key in under a minute, the pizzicato effects in No. 93 that imitate a particular kind of string quartet with double-bass rather than cello, and the rich variety in No. 96 that starts with a light Rossini-like bounce, delivers an extreme flourish of virtuosity and ends with an outpouring of the highest romantic sentiment. Lessing regards No. 97 as a kind of summit to the entire set, paying homage to Paganini in its sparkling violin-like upper line.

With the aura of Kolja Lessing’s remarkable pianism this recording has proven to be quite a surprise, and I mean that in the most positive way. Those of us who have attempted and failed to learn to play the piano properly will almost certainly have an aversion to the name of Carl Czerny, whose studies will more than likely have filled you with dread. In this case I would strongly urge you to set aside any prejudices you may hold, and to give the stunning variety of miniatures in Die Kunst der Präludierens a try in this very well produced recording.

Dominy Clements

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