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Friedrich GERNSHEIM (1839–1916)
Piano Music - Volume One
Sonata No.2 in E flat major (1853) [16:28]
Sonata No.3 in D minor (1854) [27:06]
Six Preludes, Op.2 (publ. 1864) [17:10]
Jens Barnieck (piano)
rec. 2018, Sendesaal, SWR, Kaiserslautern, Germany

Gernsheim was born in Worms, in the Rheinland. Composer, pianist, conductor and teacher, his precocious talents attracted the usual comparisons with Mozart. Gernsheim's four symphonies made this composer's recording debut at least in terms of recent decades. There are versions on Arte Nova and a pair on CPO (1 & 3) (2 & 4). His compact little Cello Concerto is on Hyperion and takes its place in that label’s Romantic Cello Concerto pilgrimage. The Violin Concertos can also be encountered on CPO. In addition his Piano quintets are on CPO, his Piano Trios on Antes and his String Quartet No. 2 on Audite and Piano Quintets on Toccata Classics. There is also an ambitious tone poem from late in his life on a Sterling CD.

What we have here are first recordings in Toccata's Gernsheim piano series. Towering over the disc, gauged in playing time, are two early piano sonatas. These have been resuscitated by pianist Jens Barnieck from manuscripts. They are joined by the Six Preludes which are products of the composer’s mid-twenties.

The Piano Sonata No. 2 from 1853 is in four movements (I Allegro di molto; II Adagio; III Allegro molto; IV Allegro vivace assai) as is the Third Sonata (I Adagio molto - Allegro appassionata; II Agitato assai; III Adagio; IV Poco andante - Allegro agitato) from a year later. It is worth noting that they were written when the composer was 14-15. Even so these are genially fluent pieces. They are strong on a language learnt, whittingly or otherwise, from scores by Schumann. The Second Sonata is a blithe piece. The Third, presumably written hot on the heels of No. 2, is of a more sumptuously dark and somewhat passionate caste. To provide some shafts of sunlight there is more temperate and genial music in the third movement, an Adagio.

The Six Preludes (No.1 Un poco lento e sostenuto; No.2 Andante espressivo; No.3 Allegro energico; No.4 Andantino; No.5 Allegretto vivace e leggiero; No.6 Allegro molto agitato) vary in mood and marking, as might be expected, and are between two and four minutes duration. If the second sonata is just a little too fluid and smiling for its own good these Preludes are more prepossessing. They move from profoundly grand to more rootedly poetic. There are tempests and storm-clouds in the one marked Allegro Energico and even a hint of works from years to come: the Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux. The placid Andantino impresses but the final Allegro molto agitato is rather too fluent - an escapee from the Second Sonata of a decade earlier when the composer was just 14. It should be noted that the composer assigned this set an opus number but not the two sonatas perhaps a sign that the composer regarded these works as an expression of his mature voice; the voice by which he intended to present his name to the world and eternity.

All three pieces/sets are most sympathetically shaped and sounded out by Jens Barnieck. Clearly he has invested of his time and self in producing some very listenable results. He strikes what feels like the adroit note for works that had not seen or heard the light of day probably for upwards of a century. The days when one might have gained a music appreciation store by LP sleeves were chancy. Knowledge now accrued from sleeve-notes of this calibre strikes deeper and wider.

The English-only essay, which runs to sufficient pages to mean that getting the booklet into the jewel case clips can be tricky, is by William Melton. It's a welcome piece of writing as it follows the Toccata template of being admirably detailed and date-specific. Melton also takes time to cast comparison and context with other composers and other works by Gernsheim.

Rob Barnett

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