Degenhof genuin GEN23807

The Degenhof Sessions
Encores and Transcriptions from the Golden Age
Jacob Leuschner (piano)
rec. 2022, Gut Degenhof, Grevenbroich, Germany
Genuin GEN23807 [74]

Jacob Leuschner is a Freiburg born pianist with a repertoire extending over several centuries of keyboard music. Though he has performed complete cycles of Sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert in recital and has recorded the complete Mozart Violin Sonatas he is not averse to exploring the forgotten corners of the repertoire – a recording of Max Reger’s complete works for cello and piano is just one result of this exploration (Oehms Classics OC456). In 2022 he devised a program of rarities that featured Weber and Dussek as well as the music of the piano’s Golden Age and he recorded it over three days in the beautiful, natural surroundings of the studio at Gut Degenhof; in a break with tradition the encores come first! The first half of the recital, built around Weber’s A flat piano sonata and Dussek’s Consolation will be released later.

In assembling the golden age segment of his recital Leuschner has not always chosen the obvious pieces. Bach/Kempff and Bauer rather than Bach/Busoni, Godowsky’s less overt transcriptions of Bizet, Bohm and Schumann albeit coupled with his arrangement of Die Federmaus and the still popular Alt Wien; even Mompou makes an appearance. Bach’s Wir danken dir, Gott is the overture to his Cantata no.29 and is already a transcription in its own right being a setting by Bach of the prélude to his partita in E major. Kempff’s is a hugely pianistic setting, much richer than the transcription that Saint-Saëns wrote, and the young Kempff, who made a recording of this arrangement in 1923, seems determined to use every inch of the keyboard. It’s grandeur and high spirits contrast strongly with Harold Bauer’s wonderfully realised transcription of the aria Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen from Cantata 127. Leuschner spreads out the Godowsky items and chooses to start with the more reflective items, the delicate adagietto from Bizet’s L’Arlésienne and Schumann’s Du bist wie Blume whilst the inclusion of Carl Bohm’s Still wie die Nacht is as much a tribute to great singers of the past who once made this so popular, Richard Tauber, Fritz Wunderlich and, in English, John McCormack to name but three. More recognisably Godowsky is the labyrinthine arrangement of Schubert’s Rosamunde ballet music, the sinuous inner voicings of his Chopin waltz transcription and the larger scale waltz fantasy on Die Fledermaus, using the same cuts that Benno Moiseiwitsch did in his 1928 recording. Four short original pieces complete the Godowsky group; all are from his Triakontameron – thirty moods and scenes in triple measure and like his other set of miniatures, Walzermasken, they really deserve to be better known. The first of the group, Alt Wien is played occasionally but the humorous A little tango rag, Anachronisms with its hints of baroque minuet peeking through the waltz texture and the energetic Terpsichorean Vindobona – a reference to the Roman camp sited where Vienna now stands don’t get much of a look in nowadays. Also faded a little from view are Moszkowski’s Spanish dances, essential piano duet repertoire once upon a time; I remember playing the solo versions recorded here in my teens – perhaps I’ll resurrect them as they’re great fun to hear and to play. They are not fancy arrangements, just four hands squeezed down to two but that doesn’t detract from their charm. Considerably more authentic Spanish fare appears in the shape of three of Federico Mompou’s Canciónes y danzas and if they don’t immediately shout Golden Age to the world it should be remembered that Mompou was a pianist with as beautiful a tone as any of the more renowned pianists of the day and recorded his own Godowsky-esque version of Chopin’s A minor waltz op.34. no.2 (available on Sakuraphon SKRP78011 great Chopinzees and Marston Records 52075-2 which features his other early recordings). Leuschner chooses three of the more familiar numbers from the Songs and dances and displays his impressive control of tone colour and rhythm; the opening of the fourth is especially beautiful here.

Liszt’s arrangements of six of Chopin’s songs make for a wonderful recital group and two of them – The Maiden’s wish and My Joys – were recorded many times in the 78rpm era. Leuschner nods towards the set with the only one that wasn’t recorded until at least the 1950s, the rambunctious Bacchanal. I like Leuschner’s pairing of Smetana’s F sharp major Polka de salon and Henselt’s sparkling F sharp major étude si oiseau j’étais, the latter recorded by Rachmaninov and the former which feels like it should sit in the golden age canon. Leuschner describes the final two pieces as encores to a program of encores. Ignaz Friedman was a romantic pianist par excellence but his own compositions and transcriptions have mostly fallen by the wayside; though pianists occasionally give a piece an airing it is to be hoped that more becomes available. In the meantime we have the delightful mock minuet Marquis et Marquisse, recorded by Friedman in 1927 with a baritone, soprano duet at its heart. Dirk Schäfer’s étude Mainacht is the rarest item here, a gentle, chromatic shimmer cocooning its tranquil melody. On the strength of this I hope that his other études are recorded at some point.

This is a wonderful recital, beautifully recorded and Leuschner is a communicative performer, clearly enjoying the opportunity to present pieces that have long been a part of his personal repertoire and to bring back something of the richness and variety of the piano’s golden age. He shares a little of the kind of repertoire that would have unashamedly graced many a recital’s second half in the early 20th century, engaging, dazzling and bewitching by turns and eliciting Artur Schnabel’s wry observation that the difference between him and other pianists was that with his recitals both halves were boring. Leuschner is anything but and I am eager to hear the delights of the remainder of his imaginative program.

Rob Challinor

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) arr. Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991)
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir BWV.29 (1973/1931)
Johann Sebastian Bach arr. Harold Bauer (1873-1951)
Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen BWV.127 (1725/pub.1944)
Georges Bizet (1838-1875) arr. Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938)
Adagietto from L’Arlésienne Suite No.1 (1872/1927)
Carl Bohm (1844-1920) arr. Leopold Godowsky
Still wie die Nacht Op.326 No.27 (pub.1889/1921)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) arr. Leopold Godowsky
Du bist wie eine Blume Op.25 No.24 (1840/1921)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) arr. Leopold Godowsky
Ballet music from Rosamunde D.797 (1823-1922)
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) arr. Leopold Godowsky
Waltz in D flat major Op.70 No.3 (1829/1920)
Frédéric Chopin arr. Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Bacchanal from Six Polish Songs S.480 (1830/1857-60)
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
Polka de Salon in F sharp major Op.7 No.1 (1855)
Adolph von Henselt (1814-1889)
Étude caractéristique Op.2 No.6 Si oiseau j’étais, à toi je volerais (pub.1838)
Federico Mompou (1893-1987)
Canciónes y danzas Nos.1, 4 and 6 (1921-1948)
Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) arr. Albert Ulrich (?)
Spanish Dances Op.12 Nos.1-3 (pub.1876)
Leopold Godowsky
Triakontameron Nos.11, 19, 18, 13 (1919-20)
Leopold Godowsky after Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)
Symphonic Metamorphoses on themes from Die Fledermaus (1847/1907)
Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948)
Marquis et Marquisse from Estampes Op.22 No.4 (pub,1906)
Dirk Schäfer (1873-1931)
Mainacht – Étude Op.3 No.7 (pub.1900)