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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Wanderer Fantasy (1852, orch. Franz Liszt) [23:49] Piano Sonata in A major, D664 (1819) [19:39] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 (1862) [27:30]
Christopher Park (piano), NDR Elbe Philharmonie Orchester/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. 2014, Laieszhalle, Hamburg, Germany CAPRICCIO C5412 [71:03]
Christopher Park has built a distinguished international career both in solo repertoire and with orchestra, and this issue features him in both capacities. While the programme features well established and popular composers, it is actually a rather unusual combination of repertoire, with one work for piano and orchestra and the other two for piano solo. Since the recordings all date from 2014, the contents relate to what was already on the Capriccio stocks, rather than recorded specially for this release. That is all the more true when one considers that using the NDR Orchestra for just one twenty-minute piece would be highly unlikely. (On the cover of the booklet, the Schubert Sonata is listed as in D major, whereas it is correctly identified as in A major elsewhere.)
Liszt can be regarded as the most central figure in nineteenth century music. One of his many achievements was to play an important role in bringing the music of Schubert to a wider currency. He made numerous transcriptions, including this one of the great Wanderer Fantasy, Schubert’s most virtuosic piano composition. The spirit of the original is certainly honoured in Liszt’s adaptation, which is constructed on a similar time-scale to his own piano concertos and other piano and orchestra works such as the great Totentanz. It became one of the works which helped established his position during his Weimar years of the 1850s. Christopher Park and Christoph Eschenbach have an excellent rapport. The orchestra plays splendidly, adding to the sense of commitment to the cause that Park undoubtedly brings. The relatively few rival recordings include Leslie Howard (Hyperion) and Alfred Brendel (Turnabout).
Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D664, is not to be confused with the late and great Sonata, D845, of 1824. It dates from 1819, and is on a rather smaller scale: three movements instead of four. Park captures the spirit of the wonderfully lyrical initial theme, thus setting the tone for his dedicated performance. Likewise, the central Andante makes for an intimate slow movement, while the final is more lively. Schubert makes no attempt at grandeur in this sonata, and neither does Park in his well judged performance. In the catalogue, there are many famous contenders who can be firmly recommended, for example Wilhelm Kempff (GG), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca) and Mitsuko Uchida (Decca).
The deployment of the cue points on the disc is worthy a special mention. The majority of recordings of Brahms’s Variations on a theme by Handel have just the single access point for the whole of this single-movement work, with its 25 variations and final fugue. This disc gives a separate cue point for each variation. Since it placed third in the sequence of three works, this makes no difference as far as accessing other items is concerned, so the pluses outweigh the minuses. For anyone wanting to consider the details and intricacies of Brahms’s composition, this a hugely useful. But the performance itself can also be heard in a more relaxed way from start to finish.
Again, the Brahms piece is one which has many distinguished recordings in the catalogue. While Park performs it brilliantly, his version does not eradicate memories of those by Julius Katchen (Decca), Murray Perahia (Sony) and Emanuel Ax (Sony), to name but three.