Two new CDs published

Two new CDs have been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of Jakob Rosenhain (1813-94), vol. 1
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD95

Total time: 60 minutes 47 seconds

Sonata in F minor, op 40: 1. Allegro con fuoco 2. Andantino 3. Scherzo – Allegro molto 4. Rondo – Presto 5. Slavonic Dance, op. 67 no. 1 6. Poeme, op. 24 Deux Morceaux de Salon, op. 28: 7. Nocturne 8. Rondo-valse 9. Grande valse de concert, op. 33

Piano Music of Jakob Rosenhain (1813-94), vol. 2
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD96

Total time: 61 minutes 46 seconds

1. Grand Caprice brillant, op. 23 Deux Reveries, op. 26: 2. Andantino doloroso 3. Andantino con moto Quatre Romances, op. 14: 4. Allegro non troppo 5. Andantino 6. Scene suisse au bord du lac de Genève 7. Andante espressivo 8. Etude op 17 no 6 – The Fisher’s Serenade 9. Etude op 17 no 8 – Lied 10. Etude op 17 no 11 – Con passione, tempo rubato.

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf for supplying scores of these rare works.

The German-Jewish composer and pianist Jakob Rosenhain was born at Mannheim in 1813 and made his debut aged eleven. Piano studies with Jacob Schmitt in Mannheim and Schnyder von Wartensee in Frankfurt followed culminating in final studies with Kalliwoda. By 1832 he was settled in Frankfurt. He subsequently developed a concert career, appearing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1837 season and also enjoying success with his one-act opera “Der Besuch im Irrenhauses” which was first given in Frankfurt in 1834 and afterwards taken up at Weimar under Hummel. However, he was unable to repeat the success of this work with his second opera, “Liswenna” (1835) even though he reworked this as “Le Demon de la Nuit” in 1851. From at least 1839 he was a friend of Mendelssohn, and also knew Hiller and Moscheles, with whom he stayed. From the autumn of 1837 he settled in Paris, where he worked on writing a school of piano playing with the well-known pedagogue John Baptist Cramer and gave chamber music evenings that were attended by such luminaries as Berlioz, Rossini and Cherubini. Continuing to hope for another operatic success, his third opera, “Volage et Jaloux” was given at Baden in 1863, but again failed to make the desired impression, and after this time Rosenhain concentrated on instrumental music. In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War forced him to relocate to Baden, where he had a villa. He received honours from Holland, France, Spain, Portugal and Baden and was elected an honorary member of the St Cecilia Society of Rome.

Rosenhain’s output includes three symphonies, one of which the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed in 1854. The second symphony, his op. 43, was performed by Mendelssohn in Leipzig in 1846; the first had been given by the same forces in 1840. There is a piano concerto in D minor, four piano trios, Lieder,  and a quantity of solo piano music including three known sonatas, of which that recorded on RDR CD 95 is the first. Several works were reviewed by Schumann in his capacity as a critic.

The two disc set of piano works by Rosenhain comprising RDR CD 95 and 96 represents a cross-section of his output for which scores can be sourced at present. The F minor sonata is the largest-scale work here, and in the dramatic gestures and taut structure of its first movement suggests a composer of considerable accomplishment. After this, the other movements represent a significantly calmer and more optimistic outlook, with a scherzo that features bell-effects in its trio section and a rapid finale with something of a rustic character. Evidently, Rosenhain intended through this contrast to demonstrate his full range of expressive writing; at times he certainly recalls his contemporary Mendelssohn, particularly in the latter movements, but in the first movement there is a tougher quality to his gestures that suggests a more Beethovenian spirit.

The other works in extended forms are the Poeme, op. 24, the Two Reveries comprising op. 26 and the Grande Caprice brillant, op. 23. These are ambitious concert works that develop a subtle but individual voice, characterized by an able and varied approach to structure and a convincing handling of chromatic harmony. While there are demanding passages in some of Rosenhain’s music, particularly in the extrovert Grande Caprice brillant, he is not generally concerned with virtuoso display and adopts a more Chopinesque style in which the achievement of expressive effect is paramount.

Rosenhain’s Parisian world was one where the salon was central to the life of the pianist, and his shorter works, even where not explicitly designated as morceaux de salon, were likely intended for performance in these intimate, atmospheric surroundings before poets, artists and fellow musicians. The Quatre Romances are striking examples of this genre, with one of their number depicting a rustic scene at Lake Geneva, complete with alpine effects.

Rosenhain’s Etudes, op. 17, achieved recognition in his lifetime as worthy examples of the concert etude, and his Fisher’s Serenade was probably the best known of this set. Equally notable, however, is the etude op. 17 no 11, which is a passionate and effective study in octaves and chords.

New CD published

A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

The Circle of Brahms, vol. 6
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD94

Total time: 73 minutes 41 seconds

1. August Bungert (1845-1915): Aus meinem Wanderbuch: Unter Palmen (Bordighera), op. 53 no 1
2. Bungert: Variations and Fugue on an original theme, op. 13
3. Woldemar Bargiel (1828-97): Nachtstück, op. 2
Bungert: Albumblätter: Characterstücke, op. 9 book II
4. Allegro moderato, op. 9 no. 4 5. Andante, op. 9 no. 5 6. Moderato, op. 9 no. 6
7. Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900): Eight Variations, op. 3
8. Ernst Rudorff (1840-1916): Impromptu, op. 51

The quintessential German Romantic, August Bungert, a pupil of Friedrich Kiel, came to the attention of Brahms when his Piano Quartet, op. 18, was awarded the Florentine Quartet Prize in 1877, the judges being Brahms and Robert Volkmann. This success proved extremely important for Bungert, since it provided him with the means to move to Italy, where he formed significant connexions with Verdi and Friedrich Nietzsche (who was his neighbour). Here also he met the Queen of Romania, known in artistic circles by the name Carmen Sylva, who became his patron, providing him with a Bechstein grand piano, a house, and organising a group of supporters known as the Bungert-Bund. In return, Bungert set many of her poems to music (composing some 362 songs in all), and also began to work on a series of epic operas. Although seen initially as an opposing pole to Wagner, Bungert became increasingly influenced by him, and his operas treat the world of Homer in the same way as Wagner’s own operas on mythic subjects.

Earlier on, it had been Brahms who had been Bungert’s stylistic model. His major set of Variations, op. 13, can be considered a response to Brahms’ own works in that form but attempts a more contemporary symphonic style, with many striking moments and a crowning fugue that is complex both technically and musically. The neglect of this work is difficult to understand; in post-war Germany Bungert was considered the inferior of Wagner, but nowadays we can see his work for its individual qualities rather than merely in comparison with others.

Woldemar Bargiel was not a prolific composer, but his works deserve greater attention than the almost complete neglect they fell into in the years immediately following his death. Similarly, if he is known at all these days, it is as the half-brother of Clara Schumann (as a result of her mother’s second marriage to music teacher Adolf Bargiel), with the implication that not only was the success of his career due to this connexion (which was undoubtedly the case) but also that such reputation that he enjoyed was merely the result of this nepotism (which was certainly not so).

Bargiel studied under Moscheles, Hauptmann, Rietz and Gade at the Leipzig Conservatoire (being noted among the younger generation in Schumann’s Neue Bahnen in 1853) and from 1859 took up a teaching position as a theorist at the conservatoire in Köln. 1866 saw him move to Rotterdam where he concentrated on conducting and musical direction, and 1874 (at the invitation of Joachim) back to Berlin (where he had taught privately throughout the 1850s) as professor of composition at the Royal Hochschule. He attained the peak of professional recognition as a senator of the Akademie der Künste, teaching up until his death at the age of sixty-nine.

Bargiel’s well-crafted and distinctive music enjoyed wide popularity during his lifetime. As well as piano music, he wrote a number of chamber works, songs, and orchestral pieces. His Notturnos date from 1853 and show a command of the Gothic style he had inherited from Schumann, but in the first, particularly, adding a rhetorical element that creates an individual impression.

Ernst Rudorff studied piano under Woldemar Bargiel and then entered the Leipzig Conservatoire under Moscheles, Plaidy and Rietz. He undertook further study with Hauptmann and Reinecke. Appointment as professor of piano at the Cologne Conservatoire in 1865 was followed by the senior piano position at the Berlin Hochschule between 1869 and his retirement in 1910. A prolific composer, arranger and editor, Rudorff was a friend of both Brahms and Joachim.

Heinrich von Herzogenberg studied composition under Dessoff and, influenced by his studies of Bach, became an ardent admirer of Brahms. He married one of Brahms’s piano pupils, and it is suggested by some that Brahms’s resentment of this union played a part in his generally curmudgeonly attitude towards Herzogenberg. In 1872, Herzogenberg moved to Leipzig where, along with Philip Spitta, he founded the Leipzig Bach-Verein, which did much to revive Bach’s cantatas. From 1885 he was professor of composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and in his last years, although a Roman Catholic, composed extensively for the Lutheran church. Herzogenberg’s works include several important pieces for solo piano and piano four hands. His early Variations, op. 3, show an ambitious young composer with plenty to say, and suggest that he had absorbed much of the Brahmsian style.

New CD published

A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

The Circle of Brahms, vol. 5
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD93

Total time: 72 minutes 19 seconds

1. Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916): Variations in E flat major, op. 18
2. Gernsheim: Variations in C minor, op. 22
3. Gernsheim: Weihe der Nacht, op. 69
4&5. Gernsheim: Fantasie und Fuge, op. 76b
Ernst Rudorff (1840-1916): 3 Romanzen, op 48: 6. Andante con moto tranquillo  7. Allegro capriccioso 8. Larghetto – Allegro vivace
9. Rudorff: Variazioni capricciose, op 55
10. Rudorff: Capriccio appassionato, op. 49

Friedrich Gernsheim was born of a Jewish family in Worms and studied there with Louis Liebe, who had been a pupil of Spohr. Following the 1848 revolutions, his father moved the family to Frankfurt, where he studied with Edward Rosenhain. His debut in 1850 was followed by two years of touring, before he undertook advanced studies with Moscheles. Between 1855-60 he was in Paris, where he met Lalo, Rossini and Saint-Saëns. In 1861 he succeeded Hermann Levi as music director in Saarbrücken, and in 1865 Hiller appointed him to the staff of the Cologne Conservatoire, where he taught Engelbert Humperdinck among others. In 1868 he met Brahms for the first time, and his compositions, which include four symphonies (the third based on the Jewish theme of the Song of Miriam), concertos and much chamber music, show a notable Brahmsian influence. He spent the years 1874-90 as director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Society, before joining the faculty of the Stern Conservatoire in Berlin, finally leaving to teach at the Academy of Arts in 1897, the year he was elected to the senate.

Gernsheim was a talented pianist and composer, and although it is not difficult to see elements of Brahms and Schumann in his work, there is also a personal voice that tends distinctly towards the melancholic. His sets of piano variations on original themes are inventive and ambitious, featuring intricate textural writing and some effective harmonic touches. His Fantasie und Fuge is a transcription of an organ work that begins in the traditional improvisatory style with abrupt contrasts of mood and tempo before building into a noble work that pays homage to the example of Bach. His poetic “Weihe der Nacht” is a transcription of a work originally for piano four hands.

Ernst Rudorff studied piano under Woldemar Bargiel (see previous RDR releases) and in 1859 entered the Leipzig Conservatoire where he studied under Moscheles, Plaidy and Rietz. He undertook further study with Hauptmann and Reinecke. Appointment as professor of piano at the Cologne Conservatoire in 1865 was followed by the senior piano position at the Berlin Hochschule between 1869 and his retirement in 1910. In 1867 he founded the Bach-Verein Köln and from 1880-90 was conductor of the Stern Gesangverein, succeeding Bruch.

A prolific composer, arranger and editor, Rudorff was a friend of both Brahms and Joachim. His original works include three symphonies, overtures, variations and serenades for orchestra, chamber music and vocal music both with orchestra and with piano. He was responsible for orchestrating Schubert’s four-hand Fantasy in F minor.

His compositional style owes something to Brahms but is also relatively forward-looking, at times approaching in its chromatic harmonic style such younger contemporaries as Dohnanyi. His music is characterized by a certain degree of vigour; the extended coda of his Variazioni capricciose being notable for its extroversion. Again, the Three Romances op. 48 might arouse expectations of tranquil works, but the second and third (after a slow introduction) are in fact highly active.

New CD published

A new CD has been issued by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

The Circle of Brahms, vol. 4
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD92

Carl Georg Peter Grädener (1812-83): Piano Sonata in C minor, op. 28
1. Allegro molto e con brio 2. Grave assai lento 3. Scherzo finale molto vivace

Heinrich XXIV Prinz Reuss zu Köstritz (1855-1910)
4. Andante

Grädener: Fantastische Studien und Träumereien, op. 52, vol. 1
5. „Immer zu immer zu/Ohne Rast noch Ruh!” 6. Beschaulichkeit 7. Jüngling und Mädchen 8. Kampf, Entsagung, Kampf 9. Resignation

Gustav Nottebohm (1817-82): Six Romanesques, op. 2
10. Andantino 11. Allegro poco agitato 12. Andante cantabile 13. Allegro grazioso  14. Allegro 15. Allegro brioso

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf and Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

Carl Grädener was born in Rostock and spent ten years as a cellist in Helsinki. He was then director of music at the Kiel Conservatoire for ten years, later teaching at the Vienna and Hamburg Conservatoires. His compositions include operas, symphonies and other large-scale works, as well as miniatures for piano and songs. His son Hermann also became a composer. His piano sonata op. 28 is a large-scale and ambitious work that has stylistic parallels with Brahms’ own early essays in the genre. Like Brahms, Grädener’s writing is tightly worked-out and highly pianistic, with a good deal of writing in double octaves and other virtuoso figurations. By contrast, the central slow movement is introverted and, while continuing the overall seriousness of the work, introduces a lyrical element that is otherwise absent. Grädener’s combination of scherzo and finale is an interesting innovation whose stormy character is fully in keeping with the Romanticism of his age without neglect of the essential backbone of Classical form.

Grädener’s first book of Fantastische Studien und Träumereien shows him to have been an effective scene-painter tending particularly towards the intense and dramatic, as in the first and fourth pieces. However, there is contrast here and the second piece, Beschaulichkeit (or Tranquillity) is full of bluff good humour of a slightly boisterous kind. The last of these studies, headed Resignation, is the most extended, with an agitated middle section leading to a long passage of repeated figuration for the left hand.

Martin Gustav Nottebohm is probably best known for his studies of Beethoven’s sketchbooks, but was also well regarded as a composer. After studies in Leipzig, where he met Mendelssohn and Schumann, he settled in Vienna in 1846. His first meeting with Brahms was in 1862 and the two men became close friends, with Brahms caring for Nottebohm in his last illness and making the arrangements for his funeral.

Nottebohm composed on a domestic scale, with most of his works for piano or chamber ensembles. His Variations on a Sarabande of J.S. Bach for piano duet was performed with Brahms as his duo partner. Brahms wrote in a letter to Heinrich von Herzogenberg (see earlier volumes of this series) that Nottebohm was among the modern practitioners of variation form.

Prince Heinrich XXIV Reuss zu Köstritz was born into the younger line of the Princely House of Reuss; his father was an amateur composer. He studied music at Dresden and then entered the Universities of Bonn and Leipzig where he studied with Wilhelm Rust. From 1881 he studied with Herzogenberg and through his good relations with Herzogenberg came to meet Brahms, who offered him some helpful advice on compositional matters. As well as six symphonies, he wrote a quantity of chamber music, influenced in style by Herzogenberg and Mendelssohn. His works were admired by Reger and other contemporaries, but he fell from favour in the post-war years.

New CD published

A new CD has been issued by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Sonatas of Eduard Franck (1817-93) vol. 3
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD91

8 Klavierstücke, op. 62:

1. Allegretto 2. Allegro molto 3. Andante 4. Presto 5. Allegro appassionato 6. Andante 7. Allegretto 8. Vivace

Piano Sonata in F major, op. 44 no 3:

9. Allegro 10. Allegro 11. Andante – Più tranquillo 12. Allegro vivace

Eduard Franck was born in Silesia into a wealthy and cultured family that numbered Mendelssohn and Wagner among its acquaintances. He studied with Mendelssohn as a private student and then began a long career as a concert pianist and teacher. He was regarded as one of the leading pianists of his day and also as an outstanding teacher.

Franck was not forthcoming about his compositions, and failed to publish many of them until late in life. He was a perfectionist and would not release a work until he was absolutely satisfied that it met his standards. Yet what survives is extremely high in quality. Writing of his chamber music, Wilhelm Altmann said, “This excellent composer does not deserve the neglect with which he has been treated. He had a mastery of form and a lively imagination which is clearly reflected in the fine and attractive ideas one finds in his works.”

The Eight Piano Pieces op. 62 are among Franck’s last piano works and were first published posthumously in 1910 as a result of the efforts of Franck’s son Richard. They constitute a large-scale cycle varying greatly in mood and tempo, and with a notably more experimental approach than Franck’s earlier works.

The Piano Sonata in F major op 44 no 3 is the longest of Franck’s published piano sonatas, and although published in 1882 was very probably composed earlier than that date. The ‘Neue Zeitschrift für Musik” of 11 May 1883 reviewed the sonatas of op. 40 and op. 44 with the following words, “In all these works, a rich treasure of good German music is laid down. It is said of our time, that it brings forth no thorough Sonata, here we find a refutation of such a claim. Since Beethoven, only a few talented writers such as Ed. Franck have probably been called into existence. Almost all motives are created vividly before us and are well crafted. It is evident how versatile and diverse they are, especially from the fact that there is an underpinning of good counterpoint as if it were naturally present in the hands. Several of these [sonatas] deserve to be performed symphonically, because a dramatic element predominates in them. This Franck has always kept in mind, just as our classical piano masters treated their instruments, in so far as the piano is an orchestra.”

New CD published

A new CD has been issued by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of Algernon Ashton (1859-1937)
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD90

Total time: 75 minutes 5 seconds

6 Pieces, op. 140
1. Rêverie 2. Capriccio 3. Scherzo 4. Ballade 5. Impromptu 6. Romance

3 Traumbilder, op. 83
7. Elegie 8. Intermezzo 9. Ballade

5 Piano Pieces, op. 127
10. Elegie 11. Humoreske 12. Romanze 13. Toccata 14. Berceuse

7 Pieces, op. 125
15. Capriccio 16. Idylle 17. Cavatine 18. Intermezzo 19. Silhouette 20. Nocturne 21. Impromptu

Our thanks to Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

While some aspects of Algernon Ashton’s life have been unearthed in recent years, and important releases on other labels have begun to reevaluate his piano works, much remains enigmatic. Born in Durham, where his father was a lay clerk at the cathedral, his family moved to Leipzig when Algernon was aged four. It was there that he completed his musical education, studying (on the recommendation of Moscheles) during 1875-79 at the Leipzig Conservatoire with Salamon Jadassohn, Carl Reinecke (see previous RDR releases) and Ernst Richter; this was followed by a year in Frankfurt with Raff and Iwan Knorr.

In 1882, his studies complete, Ashton returned to England, settling in London. Three years later, he was appointed professor of piano at the then newly-chartered Royal College of Music, where his pupils included William Yeates Hurlstone and William Alwyn. Here he remained for thirty-five years, retiring aged 60 but continuing to teach pupils privately.

Here the enigma of Ashton begins. Outwardly, his life would appear to have been one of steadfast teaching activity, doubtless enough for many of his contemporaries. But there were two other aspects to his output. One, the musical, consisted of an enormous output of published and unpublished works, many now lost, that came to include twenty-four piano sonatas and string quartets in all the keys, five symphonies, concerti for piano and violin and many piano works in shorter forms and songs. It is these latter that have mostly survived. The other aspect of his work (which gives a clue to his personality and which brought him some measure of fame before the general public) was as a voluminous writer of letters to the newspapers, on a wide range of subjects from the profound to the trivial. He became known for correcting aspects of biographical information, and particularly matters concerning graves and cemeteries, on which his knowledge was encyclopaedic, and his letters were published in several anthologies.

Ashton seems to have been – rather like his predecessor Alkan, with whom he shares several traits – compulsively creative, even given the relative indifference of English public reception, such that he could only find a publisher in Germany. Music and written material poured from him at white heat, with most of his works dating from his first forty years. One might expect from this a degree of prolixity or trivial statement, but not a bit of it. Ashton is a highly original composer and as for the relatively small number of his works currently available to examine, there is not a dud among them.

Mentioning Alkan brings two notable qualities of Ashton’s music to the fore. One is its extreme technical difficulty. While Ashton is rarely entirely outlandish or exotic in his demands on the pianist, he is uniformly severe, with the writing often cruelly exposed and leaving nowhere to hide any deficiency. If he wrote for his own performance, as seems likely, he must have been a truly astonishing pianist on the level of his more famous contemporaries. The other quality is Ashton’s intense intellectual command of his material. Like Alkan, he is motivically obsessive at times (see the Silhouette from op 125 for a good example of how the same material can be viewed from slightly different angles), but Ashton is far more influenced by the musical language of Brahms and is thus more retrospective than forward-looking for his era. Yet his music is still as English-sounding as it could be, and the blandness of the titles that the shorter pieces bear is deceptive.

This retrospective trait combines with a set of characteristics that we would perhaps cite as a stereotype of Ashton’s northern stock. His music is tough, wiry, emotionally sincere and at times extremely pessimistic, and in its plainness of utterance lacks any hint of the cheapness or sentimentality sometimes associated with his era. This, perhaps, is the key to Ashton’s personality; that he was in essence an idealist and was unconcerned with any form of acclaim save on his own terms. Others such as Rutland Boughton and Harold Truscott have pleaded his case earnestly, noting that while wholly unacknowledged publically, his compositional style was in fact extremely influential. The works on this disc add to his known legacy and further support his claim to distinction.

New CD published

A new CD is available from Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD89

Twelve Mörike Lieder, transcribed for solo piano by Max Reger (1873-1916): 1. Jägerlied  2. Er ist’s 3. Begegnung 4. Fussreise 5. Verborgenheit 6. Elfenlied 7. Der Gärtner 8. Schlafendes Jesuskind 9. Gebet 10. Rat einer Alten 11. Gesang Weyla’s 12. Selbstgeständnis

13. Albumblatt
14. Kanon

Piano Sonata in G major, op. 8
15. Allegro gracioso 16. Largo et sostenuto 17. Scherzo 18. Rondo Allegro (incomplete)

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf for supplying scores of these rare works.

Wolf’s Lieder are so completely conceived within their medium that, short of orchestrating their piano parts, it is difficult to imagine them being presented convincingly in another guise. The option of a more-or-less free paraphrase was adopted by Bruno Hinze-Reinhold in his Piano Pieces based on ten of the Lieder, but he, as with Max Reger on this disc, was doubtless well-aware that any attempt at Lisztian filigree or abandonment of such carefully worked-out textures would depart unacceptably from the spirit of the original.

Max Reger is known to us above all as a master of the Germanic school of polyphony, and it seems to have been that aspect of Wolf’s work that most appealed to him. Reger’s choice is most frequently to submerge the vocal line in the midst of others, and not infrequently in a chordal texture, which creates a challenge for the performer that would not be altogether obvious to the casual listener. Indeed, by taking this approach, Reger causes us to question whether the vocal line is indeed primus inter pares, or whether at times it is in fact subordinate to the piano part. His transcriptions bring out the intricacy of Wolf’s writing and also enable the intensity of his world to be conveyed within broader tempi than could be comfortably sustained by the human voice. The result is something of a new departure that recasts these familiar works into a new sound-world.

The Piano Sonata op. 8 dates from 1876, when Wolf was aged 16 and in the midst of his two years of studies at the Vienna Conservatoire. In the previous year, he had met Wagner, who had encouraged him and would become a major model for the younger composer. However, Wolf’s impassioned temperament and tendency for outspokenness was not suited to the discipline of conservatory study and he was to part company with the institution on less than amicable terms. This sonata has some aspects reminiscent of Wagner’s own solo piano output, though more that suggest the influence of the Viennese classics, and also points to Wolf’s desire to explore the piano’s interpretative possibilities (as he would do later and with greater success in his Lieder).

The manuscript of the sonata is mostly devoid of dynamics and articulation, and in some aspects carelessly written, with many missing accidentals. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to discern Wolf’s intentions, and what emerges is an energetic and optimistic work which suggests a young man keen to make an impression and show ability in dealing with a large-scale compositional canvas. Already in the thematic material there is plenty of strength, with the slow movement particularly striking in its recall of Beethovenian and Schubertian models. Structural issues are mainly well-handled (though the development in the first movement is cursory at best). The last movement is incomplete, breaking off in the middle of an episode; the remaining pages were likely completed by Wolf but have since been lost.

The Albumblatt (1880) and Kanon (1882) are Wolf’s last works for solo piano; by now he had found his feet as a composer, though was suffering much emotional disturbance due to his unhappy affair with Vally Franck and a not altogether successful period as a music teacher in Vienna. The former work in particular, with its striking harmonies, shows that Wolf had marshalled the elements that would form his mature style.

New CD published

A new CD is available from Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Sonatas of Eduard Franck (1817-93) vol. 2
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD88

Piano Sonata in F major, op. 40 no. 1
1. Allegro 2. Allegretto 3. Allegro vivace

Piano Sonata in C major, op. 40 no. 2
4. Allegro risoluto 2. Andante sostenuto 3. Allegro vivace

Piano Sonata in G minor, op. 40 no. 3
7. Allegro 8. Allegretto 9. Allegretto

Our thanks to Andreas and Paul Feuchte for supplying scores of these rare works.

Eduard Franck was born in Silesia into a wealthy and cultured family that numbered Mendelssohn and Wagner among its acquaintances. He studied with Mendelssohn as a private student and then began a long career as a concert pianist and teacher. He was regarded as one of the leading pianists of his day and also as an outstanding teacher.

Franck was not forthcoming about his compositions, and failed to publish many of them until late in life. He was a perfectionist and would not release a work until he was absolutely satisfied that it met his standards. Yet what survives is extremely high in quality. Writing of his chamber music, Wilhelm Altmann said, “This excellent composer does not deserve the neglect with which he has been treated. He had a mastery of form and a lively imagination which is clearly reflected in the fine and attractive ideas one finds in his works.”

The six piano sonatas forming op. 40 were published in Berlin in 1882 and dedicated to Franck’s son Richard. They show his mastery of the sonata at its zenith, and in all likelihood were written over a number of years preceding their publication, along with the ten other sonatas that form Franck’s known output in this form.

All three of these sonatas demonstrate Franck’s key qualities of proportion and command of structure, within which a wide emotional canvas is developed. The shades of Beethoven and Schubert hover near, with the latter’s influence felt particularly in the Allegretto finale of the G minor sonata, whose second subject is notably Schubertian in design. Other passages in that work’s first movement recall figures from Beethoven’s G major sonata, op. 31 no. 1, though in a darker and more serious context than that work’s playfulness.

Franck generally puts the burden of argument in these sonatas upon the first movement, with the central movement acting as a contrast to this intensity and thorough working-out of the sonata form. In two of the sonatas, there is no true slow movement, with scherzo-like foils taking that place, although in the G minor sonata there are lyrical episodes that give something of a sense of an extended cantabile. The finale is then left to promote resolution, generally taking on a more humorous, Haydn-like character and treating motifs that open up multiple developmental possibilities. The choice of sonata-rondo form is another indication of Franck’s concern with development as an integral part of design; not for him the freer approach of Chopin, for example. With Franck, a Viennese formality is a part of that sense of proportion that holds head and heart in balance.

His sonatas are the stronger and more impressive for this element of restraint within boundaries. The listener will be struck by Franck’s economy of gesture over what is often quite a large-scale movement; not a note is wasted or out of place, and throughout a terse inner logic first explores the potential of the material and then ties it together in a typical extended coda.

Contrast is also a major strength of Franck’s approach. His choice of varied motivic material is deft and at times, such as in the second subject of the G minor finale mentioned above, gives rise to genuinely memorable and beautiful writing. These lyrical passages are often deceptively technically demanding; Franck was clearly an exceptionally able pianist and he takes few prisoners in his demands for stamina and agility, not to mention complex accompaniment-figures in double-notes.

The ‘Neue Zeitschrift für Musik” of 11 May 1883 reviewed the sonatas of op. 40 and op. 44 with the following words, “In all these works, a rich treasure of good German music is laid down. It is said of our time, that it brings forth no thorough Sonata, here we find a refutation of such a claim. Since Beethoven, only a few talented writers such as Ed. Franck have probably been called into existence. Almost all motives are created vividly before us and are well crafted. It is evident how versatile and diverse they are, especially from the fact that there is an underpinning of good counterpoint as if it were naturally present in the hands. Several of these [sonatas] deserve to be performed symphonically, because a dramatic element predominates in them. This Franck has always kept in mind, just as our classical piano masters treated their instruments, in so far as the piano is an orchestra.”

New CD published

A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of Robert Fuchs (1847-1927)
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD87

Improvisationen, op. 11: 1. Grazioso 2. Andante con espressione 3. Un poco con moto 4. Allegretto 5. Presto 6. Allegretto tranquillamente 7. Allegro 8. Allegro moderato (scherzando) 9. Tranquillo. Sommermärchen und Herbstblätter, op. 39 (excerpts) 10. Anmuthig 11. Etwas langsam, gemüthvoll. 12. Capriccietti, 11 Stücke, op. 12: Mässig bewegt – Im selben Tempo – Etwas ruhiger – Ziemlich geschwind – Mässig bewegt – Im selben Tempo – Langsam breit – Unruhig – Sehr ruhig – Bewegt – Finale. Ländliche Scenen, leichte Stücke, op. 8: 13. Sommer-Morgen 14. Auf dem Teich 15. Verlassen! 16. Plaudernde Mädchen 17. Trauliches Plätzchen 18. In der Dorfschmiede 19. Die Schule ist aus! 20. Auf der Waldweise 21. Im stillen Grunde 22. Waldvögelein 23. Heimkehr vom Felde 24. Zur Kirmess. Romantic Discoveries Recordings CD 87.

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf for supplying scores of these rare works.

Robert Fuchs was born in 1847 in Styria, the youngest of thirteen children. He attended the Vienna Conservatoire where he studied with Felix Dessoff and Joseph Hellmesberger, and subsequently taught there, being appointed professor of music theory in 1875. He retired in 1912. The list of his pupils includes Sibelius, Mahler, Enescu, Wolf, von Zemlinsky, Korngold, Schmidt and Schreker, and it has been suggested by one critic that Mahler’s Second Symphony bears the marks of several “Fuchsisms”.

Fuchs disliked the promotional aspects of life as a composer and did little or nothing to promote his works during his lifetime. He preferred a quiet and comfortable existence in Vienna, where his teaching position ensured both financial security and the opportunity to continue his work as he saw fit. Nevertheless, his five serenades did achieve popularity in his time, earning him the nickname “Serenaden-Fuchs”. Conductors such as Nikisch also did much to champion his orchestral works, though with little ultimate result.

Fuchs was reasonably prolific in most areas of composition, including four symphonies, but it is his chamber and instrumental music that is regarded as his most personal and significant. Brahms, who was not overly given to praise of other composers, said of Fuchs, “Fuchs is a splendid musician, everything is so fine and so skillful, so charmingly invented, that one is always pleased.” One might add that Fuchs is a supremely balanced composer: sensitive yet formal in approach, and tending towards intimacy of expression while not being without the capacity to express a more extrovert drama.

Fuchs’ works for piano include three piano sonatas, which have been recorded in recent years, and a number of other cycles. The Improvisationen, op 11, show him to have absorbed the influences of Schumann, Brahms and Mendelssohn, and reveal a composer of considerable emotional range and an instinctive command of the capabilities of the piano. The Capriccietti, op 12, are a set of pieces designed to play continuously as a cycle, not unlike Schumann’s Humoreske, and with a finale that is reminiscent of that from his Symphonic Etudes. Away from these ambitious works, the Ländliche Scenen are simple pieces that present an idealized world of rural childhood. Unpretentious and melodic, they show Fuchs at his most genial and lyrically inspired.

Two new CDs published

Two new CDs are now available from Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Piano Music of J.P.E. and Emil Hartmann and August Winding
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD86

Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900): 1. Fantasistykke: Allegretto grazioso e moderato. August Winding (1835-99): Sommerminder, op 26: 2. Feriestemning 3. Nyt Liv 4. J Sukkenes Allee I 5. J Sukkenes Allee II 6. Valse Impromptu 7. Serenade 8. Notturno. J.P.E. Hartmann: 9. Introduction et Andantino religioso, op. 26. August Winding and Emil Hartmann (1836-98): Fjeldstuen, ballet by A. Bournonville: 10. Sæterpigernes Dands om det nydødbte Barn (Winding)  11. Astas Dands til Faderens Spil (Hartmann)  12. Bornene Fortælle om Astas Dands (Hartmann) 13. Menuet (Hartmann) 14. Huldredands (Winding) 15. Springdands (Winding) 16. Scherzo (Hartmann). J.P.E. Hartmann: Novelletten: Sechs kleine Stücke, op 55: 17. Allegretto 18. Allegro giocoso 19. Menuet-Tempo 20. Allegro vivace, assai 21. Andantino sostenuto 22. Allegro assai. Emil Hartmann: Sonata in F major, op 17: 23. Allegro 24. Cantilene: Andantino 25. Rondo: Allegro grazioso.

Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann succeeded his father at the Garnisons Kirke in 1824, and thereafter was successively professor at Copenhagen University and the founding director of the Conservatoire there from 1867. His studies in Europe in 1836 brought him into contact with Chopin, Rossini, Cherubini and Spohr. In musical style he successfully fused elements of Nordic nationalism with a post-Mendelssohnian style that at its most progressive (such as in op 74) clearly looks forward to Brahms. The quality of Hartmann’s inspiration and mastery of compositional and pianistic technique was considerable, and marks him out as the leading Danish composer for the piano of his generation.

Emil Hartmann, son of J.P.E., received his early training from his father and developed a successful career in his homeland and Germany, despite being somewhat eclipsed by his father’s fame. His unpublished Sonata shows a forward-looking grasp of the mid-Romantic idiom, with a powerful opening movement followed by two that were both left unfinished, interestingly when each had reached similar melodic ideas. His shorter works are gratefully written for the instrument, showing an apt grasp of the salon style of the turn of the century. The ballet Fjeldstuen (The Mountain Hut, or Twenty Years) to choreography by the royal ballet master August Bournonville was completed in 1859 and was the first significant work of Emil Hartmann, here collaborating with his brother-in-law August Winding, to come to public notice.

August Winding was the son of a pastor, and received his first piano lessons from his parents. In 1847 he studied with Carl Reinecke and from 1848-51 with Anton Rée, also studying composition with Niels Gade. In 1856 he completed his studies in Leipzig and Prague, where he studied with Dreyschock. Returning to Denmark, he became well-known for appearances as a soloist, particularly in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. In 1864, he married Clara, daughter of J.P.E. Hartmann. From 1867 he taught at the Royal Conservatory, as well as privately. In 1872 he developed a nervous injury to his arm as a result of overwork which forced him to stop concertizing and devote his attention to composition. He resumed teaching at the Conservatory in 1881 and became a member of its board after the death of Gade in 1890. In 1888 he reappeared in public as a soloist and gave a limited number of concerts between then and his death, receiving the accolade of a state professorship and annuity in 1892.

Piano Music of August Winding (1835-99)
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD85

Preludes in all the Keys: A Cycle, op 26: 1. in C major: Poco Adagio, maestoso e con nobilità 2. in A minor: Allegro agitato ed affetuoso 3. in F major: Comodo 4. in D minor: Allegro risoluto e energico 5. in B flat major: Allegro non troppo. Giocoso, con allegrezza 6. in G minor: Moderato con fierezza 7. in E flat major: Andante innocente e tenero 8. in C minor: Presto impetuoso 9. in A flat major: Allegro non troppo con dolcezza 10. in F minor: Allegro moderato, poco agitato 11. in D flat major: Con moto. Soave e con grazia 12. in B flat minor: Andantino quasi Allegretto, Grave e mesto 13. in G flat major: Allegro vivace con calore e molt’ animato 14. in E flat minor: Presto furioso e con strepito 15. in B major: Allegretto tranquillo e dolce 16. in G sharp minor: Allegretto dolente e malinconico 17. in E major: Moderato grazioso e con tenerezza  18. in C sharp minor: Allegro energico e molt’ appassionato  19. in A major: Allegretto dolce e piacevole 20. in F sharp minor: Andantino con duolo 21. in D major: Allegro con vivacità ed anima 22. in B minor: Adagio grave e lugubre 23. in G major: Allegro molto con gran vivacità 24. in E minor: Andante sostenuto, quasi una fantasia 25. Postludium in C major: Poco Adagio, maestoso e con nobilità. Landlige Scener: Skizzer for Piano, op 9: 26. Med Tilegnelsen 27. Ved Daggry 28. Ved Kornmarken 29. I det Frie 30. Løvfald 31. Aftenstemning 32. Afsked.

August Winding was the son of a pastor, and received his first piano lessons from his parents. In 1847 he studied with Carl Reinecke and from 1848-51 with Anton Rée, also studying composition with Niels Gade. In 1856 he completed his studies in Leipzig and Prague, where he studied with Dreyschock. Returning to Denmark, he became well-known for appearances as a soloist, particularly in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. In 1864, he married Clara, daughter of J.P.E. Hartmann. From 1867 he taught at the Royal Conservatory, as well as privately. In 1872 he developed a nervous injury to his arm as a result of overwork which forced him to stop concertizing and devote his attention to composition. He resumed teaching at the Conservatory in 1881 and became a member of its board after the death of Gade in 1890. In 1888 he reappeared in public as a soloist and gave a limited number of concerts between then and his death, receiving the accolade of a state professorship and annuity in 1892.

Winding’s works include principally a large amount of solo piano music, particularly etudes, as well as a symphony, piano concerto, concert allegro for piano and orchestra, piano quartet, string quintet and two violin sonatas. This disc is the first to be devoted to his solo piano music.

The major cycle of Preludes in all the keys is dedicated to Isidor Seiss, the noted piano teacher and pupil of Friedrick Wieck. Unlike Chopin, Winding adopts a cycle of ascending fourths followed by their relative minors. This is a superbly varied and inspired series, with a lyrical emphasis throughout. Of particular note are the finely-drawn B flat minor (no. 12), perhaps the most reminiscent of Chopin, and the final E minor dark fantasia. The set ends with the first prelude returning as a postlude, having already been alluded to in the B minor prelude (no. 22).

The Landlige Scener (Rural Scenes) are an early work of Winding’s and show his distinctive voice already well-developed with clear progression from the world of Schumann and Mendelssohn. The movements are attractively descriptive, including Ved Daggry (at dawn), Løvfald (leaf fall), Ved Kornmarken (through the cornfield), Aftenstemning (evening mood) and Afsked (farewell). Winding’s father had a passion for collecting and arranging folk music and its contours are evident in a number of these effective, unpretentious pieces.