3 new CDs

Three new CDs have been issued by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Johann Carl Eschmann (1826-82): Piano Works vol. 2
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD80

Sonata in A flat major op 72 no 2: Spring
1. Moderato espressivo 2. Am Waldbach: Romanze: Allegretto 3. Allegro vivace

Three Salon Pieces, op 21
4. Humoreske 5. Polonaise 6. Waltz

Twelve French Folk Songs, op 54
7. La bonne aventure 8. En revenant de Bâle en Suisse 9. Air de la pipe de tabac 10. Fournissez un canal au ruisseau 11. Eh! lon lon la, Landerinette! 12. Air de la ronde-de-camp de Grandpré 13. Une fille est un oiseau 14. La Vivandière 15. Ce jour-là, sous son ombrage 16. Le bruit des roulettes gâte tout 17. La marmotte a mal au pied  18. Epilogue: J’ai vu partout dans mes voyages.

Notes on the music
The Swiss composer Johann Carl Eschmann was born to a family of musicians in Zurich. He studied at the Leipzig Conservatoire between 1847 and 1849 with Mendelssohn, Moscheles and Gade, and thereafter pursued a career as composer and teacher initially in Kassel. From 1850-59 he taught in Winterthur but found competition with his friend Theodor Kirchner difficult, and between 1859-66 based himself in Schaffhausen. The latter year saw him return to Zurich where he spent the remainder of his days.

In 1871, Eschmann published his “Wegweiser durch die Klavierliteratur”, a graded survey of the piano repertoire suitable for teachers. This was republished in several editions, but by the tenth edition in 1925, Eschmann’s name as compiler and reference to all except his most basic didactic works had been entirely removed.

Eschmann was a reasonably prolific composer of piano and chamber music. His style is firmly in the mould of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and is concerned primarily with the expression of character and mood within well-defined structures. At the same time, some of his earlier works are more experimental and more technically varied that this would suggest, with some exploration of cyclical forms.

Eschmann knew Richard Wagner, and indeed Wagner referred to him on one occasion as a friend. There is a suggestion that Eschmann may have been involved in the first performance of the “Wesendonk-Lieder” and a copy of one of these songs exists with a dedication from Wagner to him. In his work “Richard Wagner’s Zurich: the muse of place”, Chris Walton suggests that Eschmann’s song “Mittags” may have provided Wagner with one of the themes from “Das Rheingold” (pp 141-148). Walton also provides much further information on Eschmann’s work. In July 1853, Liszt invited Eschmann and Kirchner to meet him at Wagner’s apartment and presumably to bring their latest compositions; unfortunately no details of the meeting have been recorded.

Later on, however, Eschmann developed an affinity with Brahms and became sharply critical of Wagner in his “100 Aphorisms” (1878). His output tended to become more conservative after his earlier works, and by and large he was content to compose within established boundaries rather than seeking to innovate, with many of his later piano pieces intended for pupils.

The cycle of four sonatas inspired by the seasons seems to have been written with able women pianists in mind, for although they contain some demanding passages, they carefully avoid the use of passages in octaves. Such music was a requirement of the period, since many women attained a high standard of piano playing while being unable to pursue a public concert career. Rather like Czerny before him, Eschmann writes in such a way as to make technical points while maintaining musical interest; the sonatas are attractive and confident in their compositional approach, with plenty of melodic inspiration and a lively spirit throughout.

The three salon pieces that form op 21 were dedicated to Eschmann’s teacher Alexander Muller in Zurich, and are more adventurous in their piano style, with something of the typically showy technique of the salon genre but at the same time a distinctive and rather subtle individuality, particularly in the opening Humoreske, whose slow introduction leads to a tarantella central section.

Transcriptions of folk songs are common in the Romantic era, but Eschmann’s set of twelve French songs treats the material in a characteristic and effective way that marks it out from the run of the mill. The set is designed to be played as a cycle, with plenty of contrast within and an effective Epilogue to round it off.

Nicolai von Wilm (1834-1911): Völker und Zeiten im Spiegel ihrer Tänze, op 31, etc.
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD79

Völker und Zeiten im Spiegel ihrer Tänze (Nations and Epochs illustrated by their Dances), op. 31
1. Roundelay (German) 2. Sarabande (Spanish) 3. Gavotte and Tambourin (Old French) 4. Ländler (Bavarian) 5. Rigaudon (Provençal) 6. Mazurka (Polish) 7. Minuet (Old French) 8. Bolero (Spanish) 9. Bourrée (Old French) 10. Rustic Dance (Norwegian) 11. Gigue (Old French) 12. Dance of the Rhinelanders (German) 13. Csardas (Hungarian) 14. Loure (Old French) 15. Pavane (Old Spanish) and Gaillarde (Old French).

16. Melodie, op 113. 17. Bilder vom Lande, op 146: no 1 Ankunft. 18. Klage, op 194 vol 1 no 2.  19. Ergebung, op 194 vol 2 no 6. 20. Entblätterte Rose. 21. Loure (Old French Dance). 22. Frohe Botschaft, op 196 no 6.

Nicolai von Wilm was born in Riga in 1834 and studied at the Leipzig Conservatoire between 1851 and 1856. The following year he returned to Riga to take up the position of second Kapellmeister at the State Theatre. In 1860 he moved to the Nikolai Institute in St Petersburg, where he taught until 1875, after which he made his home in Wiesbaden.

von Wilm’s output includes around 250 works, including many for piano. This disc represents the first recording of any of his piano compositions. His neglect is surprising in view of the esteem in which he was held in his lifetime, particularly during his time at St Petersburg, and the high quality of his music, which embraces both large-scale works such as the Fantaisie in F minor (recorded on CD78) and much in shorter forms.

The set of dances forming op 31 is typical of the nationalistic element that became particularly predominant in music of the later Romantic era, as music became increasingly the expression of ethnic – and often political – identity. The pleasure in such sets lies in their ready characterisation of the forms they encompass; those who consider the nineteenth-century uninterested in the baroque might well look to the number of Old French dances revived here, as they also are in the very similar suite of ancient dances op 75 by Ernst Pauer (previously recorded for RDR). von Wilm is concerned throughout with stamping his own musical personality on each miniature; although sometimes given to reflection, he comes across as a rather vigorous and energetic character with a thorough command of the piano’s capabilities.

This is then complimented with a journey through some of von Wilm’s miniatures from other groups. The first movement from his op 146 set of countryside evocations is the most extensive, being a truncated sonata form that has much of Schumann about it and whose appeal is considerable. Other works include those published in the Neuen Musik-Zeitung of 1909; calling-cards, as it were, of von Wilm’s art.

Nicolai von Wilm (1834-1911): Fantasie, op 68; Rondo, op 69 no 2, etc.
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD78

Nicolai von Wilm: Fantasie in F minor, op 68
1. Praeludium und Recitativ 2. Intermezzo: Assai vivo 3. Adagio cantabile e sostenuto 4. Finale: Allegro con brio

Hugo Reinhold (1854-1935): Traunseebilder: 5 Tonstücke, op 55
5. Morgengruss 6. Abendämmerung 7. Echo 8. Barkarole 9. Irrlicht

Nicolai von Wilm: Rondo in E flat major, op 69 no 2

Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901): Passacaglia: Free concert transcription of the final movement of the Organ Sonata op 132

Nicolai von Wilm was born in Riga in 1834 and studied at the Leipzig Conservatoire between 1851 and 1856. The following year he returned to Riga to take up the position of second Kapellmeister at the State Theatre. In 1860 he moved to the Nikolai Institute in St Petersburg, where he taught until 1875, after which he made his home in Wiesbaden.

von Wilm’s output includes around 250 works, including many for piano. This disc represents the first recording of any of his piano compositions. His neglect is surprising in view of the esteem in which he was held in his lifetime, particularly during his time at St Petersburg, and the high quality of his music, which embraces both large-scale works such as the Fantaisie in F minor and much in shorter forms. The Fantaisie shows a clear Bachian influence and also perhaps something of Cesar Franck in its opening pairing of a prelude and recitative. This is music that seeks to make a significant statement, and if that statement is perhaps more notable for its echoing of more prominent composers (notably Schumann) that does not exclude some degree of von Wilm’s own compositional and pianistic individuality. The piano writing, replete with octaves and massive chords, certainly takes few prisoners, but this is counterbalanced by a nonchalant Intermezzo and a fine, deeply-felt slow movement of considerable merit. The Rondo – the second of two forming von Wilm’s op 69 – is rather more Chopinesque in places, and again represents a considerably accomplished style with plenty of melodic invention and contrast.

Hugo Reinhold was a Vienna-based composer who, under the patronage of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, studied at the Conservatorium der Musikfreunde under Bruckner, Felix Dessoff and Julius Epstein. He became a teacher of piano at the Akademie der Tonkunst and acquired a sound reputation as a composer, with his works being performed, inter alia, by the Vienna Philharmonic. His set of five Pictures from the Traunsee was published in 1897 and forms an effective and straightforward collection, somewhat reminiscent of Grieg in places.

The name of Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger is more familiar to organists than to pianists, although he also wrote a good deal of piano music. Rheinberger was a child prodigy, being appointed organist to the parish church of Vaduz at the age of seven. After three years at the Munich Conservatoire (1851-54) he studied privately with Franz Lachner. His appointment as professor of piano (1859) and composition (1860) at the Conservatoire was thwarted by the institution’s closure in 1860, but on its re-opening in 1867 he was reappointed as Royal Professor. Rheinberger was noted for his supreme musicianship and ability as an executant, and counted Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari and Furtwangler among his composition pupils. The Passacaglia is a concert transcription for piano of the last movement of the organ sonata, op 132, and follows the form of that movement closely with many demanding passages where the counterpoint of the original is rigorously preserved despite the pianistic difficulties that result. The effect is of a profoundly serious and effective work which deserves concert revival in our own time.

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About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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