Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum from the August 2022 Festival
rec. live, 12-20 August 2022, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
Danacord DACOCD969 [77]

Here is a selection of piano music from the August 2022 Festival at the Schloss vor Husum in Schleswig-Holstein, the 36th volume in the series which began in 1987. I look forward to reviewing these discs every year. There were two events last year. The first, in June, replaced the previous year’s festival cancelled because of the pandemic; the highlights were later released (review). This disc documents the second festival.

I cannot recall having heard Beethoven’s Polonaise in C major before. It was dedicated to the Russian Empress, Elizabeth Alexeievna, whom Beethoven had met at the Congress of Vienna. Matthias Kirschnereit gives a splendid account, untroubled from the first bar to the last. It is notable as a precursor to Chopin’s monumental series of sixteen surviving Polonaises.

Kyiv-born pianist Vadym Kholodenko performed Franz Schubert’s Sonata in E flat, D568, of which the disc includes the Andante molto second movement. The work was originally conceived in D flat major but revised around 1826. (This is Sonata No. 7, not No. 8 as in the booklet.) The slow movement presents two lyrical contrasting themes: the first unfolds in melancholy mood, the second is livelier. The pianist creates a feeling of desolation. He also gives a perfect performance of fellow-countryman Valentin Silvestrov’s Bagatelle. Although it was written a mere 18 years ago, it overflows with Viennese Romanticism.

I wish I had devoted more time to the study of Scriabin’s piano music. His complex language developed from “youthful echoes of Chopin” to a deeply personal language of his own making, which explored the limits of chromaticism and technical possibilities. Jean-Paul Gasparian presents the gentle Désir and the exquisite Prelude, op.37 No.1. There is nothing challenging here for the listener, just pure magic.

Mélanie Hélène (Mel) Bonis, born in Paris, studied with César Franck at the Conservatoire. Much of her catalogue is piano music. An edition of her complete work for the instrument has been issued in nine volumes. The Romance sans Paroles in G flat major, played by Nicolas Stavy, nods towards Mendelssohn and Fauré. It features an elaborately interwoven “right hand melody [with a] finely woven accompaniment shared between the hands”. It is comforting romantic pianism.

Ignace Strasfogel’s name is new to me. He was a Polish pianist, conductor and composer. He wrote the Variations on a Well-Known Tune for his six-year-old son Ian. Each variation is “a portrait of family life”. The well-kent tune is the American classic Home on the Range. This is no cowboy serenade, but a sophisticated take on several musical styles with nods to cabaret, Hindemith, Mussorgsky and the Baroque. Kolja Lessing perfectly mirrors the eclecticism of this music. He also plays Cécile Chaminade’s stark tone-poem for piano Au pays dévasté. The liner notes accurately point out that this troubled piece is vastly different from the charming salon miniatures for which she was well-known.

Nadejda Vlaeva contributes two contrasting works that deserve better recognition. The Allegro non troppo by Philipp Scharwenka shows that Robert Schumann’s influence was still prevalent at the very end of the nineteenth century. The piece gets a refined performance here. Friedrich Gulda’s Play Piano Play, as the liner notes say, is a collection of pieces that “encourages classically trained pianists […] to loosen up and learn techniques of jazz and improvisation”. To this end, the sixth number Presto possibile uses “stride piano” left-hand and improvised right-hand figurations. This brilliantly played piece would make a fine encore for any recital.

Paul Guinery made his debut at the Husum Festival with pieces by less-well-known composers such as Iris Taylor, Harry Engelman and Madeleine Dring. Included here is Arnold Bax’s hauntingly beautiful Oliver’s Sleepless Night written as part of the score for David Lean’s 1948 film Oliver Twist; there is nothing here of Bax’s Celtic Twilight. Billy Mayerl is one of those musicians who crosses the popular/classical divide. Often syncopated and jazzy, but sometimes downright sentimental, his tunes are always a delight. Jill All Alone was dedicated to his wife. It has more than hints of Ivor Novello in the progress of this nostalgic waltz. I have remarked before that “Jill” must have been clearly a fascinating lady to inspire this delicious musical portrait.

Another work using a ‘found tune’ is Antonio Pompa-Baldi’s Smile-Improvisation on a Chaplin Tune. This majors on the well-loved romantic theme Smile, first made a hit song by Nat King Cole. It was later covered by the late Tony Bennett, Judy Garland and Lady Gaga amongst many others. It is given the full treatment in this delicious performance by the composer. Pompa-Baldi also contributes the Chilean Enrique Soro Barriga’s Andante appassionato. Pure romanticism oozes from every bar. Then there is his account of Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli’s Vivacissimo from Tre Studi da Concerto. This express train of a piece develops intricate right-hand sequences and short, sharp harmonic shocks.

There follows the Berlinskaya and Ancelle Piano Duo’s delightful performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Cradle Song from Act 3 of his opera Sadko. Victor Babin’s arrangement gives a dreamy account of the aria. The programme closes with the Duo’s performance of Alexander Tsfasman’s Fantasy on George Gershwin “The Man I Love”. Tsfasman was born in Odessa, studied alongside Vladimir Horowitz but developed as a jazz pianist, composer, conductor, arranger, publisher and activist. He was an important figure in Russian jazz in the middle of the twentieth century. He was obsessed with the music of George Gershwin. The liner notes say that the song was transcribed by Igor Tsygankov from a recording. The Duo give a characteristically thoughtful performance of this fine tune, originally from Lady, Be Good and reused in Strike up the Band.

I cannot fault anything in this latest release of music from the Husum Festival. The performances are ideal, the repertoire is well-chosen and full of interest, the recording is first-rate, and the liner notes are most helpful (I quoted from them in this review, with thanks). I wish this were a double or a treble CD. Then again, I guess the entire series of recitals cannot be included … I look forward to reviewing the 2023 editions.

John France

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Presto Music

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Polonaise in C major, op.89 (1814)
Matthias Kirschnereit (piano)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No.7 in E flat major, D568, II. Andante molto (1817)
Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937)
Bagatelle op.1 No.1, Allegretto (2005)
Vadym Kholodenko (piano)
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Désir, op.57 No.1 (1908)
Prelude, op.37 No.1 (1903)
Jean-Paul Gasparian (piano)
Mélanie (Mel) Bonis (1858-1937)
Romance sans paroles in G flat major, op.56 (1905)
Nicolas Stavy (piano)
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)
Au pays dévasté, op.155 (1914)
Ignace Strasfogel (1909-1994)
Variations on a Well-Known Tune (1946)
Kolja Lessing (piano)
Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917)
Five Piano Pieces, op.101 No.3, Allegro non troppo (1897)
Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000)
Play Piano Play “10 Pieces for Yuko” No.6, Presto possibile (1971)
Nadejda Vlaeva (piano)
Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Oliver’s Sleepless Night (from Oliver Twist) (1948)
Billy Mayerl (1902-59)
Jill All Alone in G major (1955)
Paul Guinery (piano)
Enrique Soro Barriga (1884-1954)
Andante appassionato, op.2 (1901)
Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli (1882-1949)
Tre Studi da Concerto, op.31 No.1, Vivacissimo (1915, ed. 1929)
Antonio Pompa-Baldi (b. 1974)
Smile-Improvisation on a Chaplin Tune (2021)
Antonio Pompa-Baldi (piano)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), arr. Victor BabinCradle Song (from Sadko) (1937)
Alexander Tsfasman (1906-1971), arr. Igor Tsygankov
Fantasy on George Gershwin “The Man I Love.” (?)
Berlinskaya and Ancelle Piano Duo