Husum piano DACOCD949

Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum 2022 – Six Petits Concerts
rec. live, June 2022, Schloss vor Husum, Germany

This feels like a bumper year; hot on the heels of highlights from the 2021 festival (Danacord DACOCD939 reviewreview) comes this CD of highlights from the 2022 mini-festival, given as compensation for the limitations on audience numbers and recital length imposed by the pandemic in 2021. The recitals were fashioned after the Petits Concerts given by Charles Valentin Alkan in 1873 after two decades spent as a recluse and had the proviso that the pianists must include a work by Alkan and at least one selection from his five books of Chants. The excellent booklet gives a potted biography of Alkan and mentions the pianists who have championed him over the years including some playing here. Marc-André Hamelin, a Husum regular, needs no introduction on that score and he is represented by Aime-moi, a grand work that would sit comfortably alongside Liszt’s Ballades. Its melancholy opening theme is sparsely accompanied but a second theme winds up the tension both with its triplet accompaniment and piquant ‘wrong note’ and following sections unfold, each adding to the turbulent sense of drama. He also plays William Bolcom’s gloriously silky and sinuous Graceful Ghost Rag, one of the three Ghost Rags that he first played at the festival in 1988 and which nod to his new release of the complete rags (Hyperion CDA68391-2 review).

The other Alkan works here come from his Chants, the series of pieces written between 1857 and 1872 and which echo Mendelssohn’s Songs without words; each of the five books contain six pieces of which the sixth is always a Barcarolle. No barcarolles here though; Marie-Catherine Girod opens with the ardent Hymne from the first book with its soaring melody surging over a rolling accompaniment and more of the harmonic piquancy that separates Alkan from Mendelssohn is clear towards the end. Clare Hammond follows this with the andantino from the final book; its somewhat melancholy tune is in duple time and is played over a triple time accompaniment, like Chopin’s A flat étude in reverse though Alkan’s is darker hued. Artur Pizarro ends this set with the Appasionata from the fourth set, its restless outer sections interrupted by more tranquil hymn-like passages. From these three examples it is clear that the Chants have been unfairly neglected and it is to be hoped that more pianists explore this less über-virtuosic side of Alkan’s output.

I am not familiar with Billy Eidi, a French pianist born in Egypt. His teachers include Hans Leygraf and Guido Agosti and he is passionate about French music especially the unfamiliar. To this end he gives us Hahn and De Séverac starting with the utterly tender Hivernale – Winter – from the cycle le Rossignol éperdu. Eidi’s performance is tranquillity itself, magnificently capturing winter’s snow-cloaked stillness and for me this steals the show. The fourth of de Séverac’s Picturesque studies, Cerdaña, describes Mule drivers praying before a carving of Christ at the Church of the Lady of the Angels in Llivia. It is an atmospheric and richly textured tone poem depicting the bells of the church nestled in the wide valley, its simple, heartfelt melody delicately coloured. The discoveries continue – Marie-Catherine Girod included music by Mel Bonis, a composer who I note is getting more attention from recording companies; I reviewed a marvellous disc containing selections from her femmes de légende (IBS Classical IBS52021 review review) and have seen at least two upcoming releases of her piano music. The legendary woman portrayed here is Ophélie; it opens with gently spreading arpeggios and subtle hints of impression before growing more passionate, intense but never attempting to render her madness in music. Composer Jeanne Barbillion has not been as fortunate as Bonis; I had not even heard her name so thank-you to Girod for introducing us to her. She was a pianist and violinist as well as a composer, having with Vincent d’Indy at his Schola Cantorum. Provence is a two part work and we hear the first part, By the sea at evening. Though it was composed in 1926 one might be hard pushed to date it; as in the Bonis there are hints of impressionism but there is romanticism in its shifting chromatic harmonies and slowly unfolding melody that evokes the ebb and flow of the tide. We skip back a century for the next item, the Sonata in F minor by E. T. A. Hoffmann, such a name to conjure with and whose stories inspired Schumann, Tchaikowsky, Delibes and Offenbach. Despite the short length, just 8:57, the Sonata is complete. It is in the style of early Beethoven and Schubert and packs a lot into into its brief span; an imposing introduction visits several quite unrelated keys and the main theme of the movement proper is a fugue, revisited in a slightly different guise in the finale. These movements sandwich a charming larghetto with some effectively varied decoration. Fanny Hensel, Mendelssohn’s older sister, wrote copiously but much of her music is still to be explored; apparently her brother’s death brought an sudden end to a project to have all her music published by Breitkopf und Härtel and so much remains unpublished. Kotaro Fukuma plays her dazzling Introduction and Capriccio, a work that clearly demonstrates that she could weave virtuoso textures quite as well as her brother could and I don’t feel this suffers in comparison to his own works. The slow introduction builds momentum dramatically and the capriccio is a scintillating scherzo; Fukuma, who appeared at the 2019 festival plays both works with character and heady virtuosity. Clare Hammond starts with William Alwyn’s Haze of noon, and brief atmospheric work with a simple melody singing over an appropriately hazy spread accompaniment. Equally evocative is Fairy Knoll from William Grant Still’s Bells – it’s companion is called Phantom Chapel. It harks back to a long tradition of works evoking bells, from Liszt to Messiaen though this piece is most closely linked to Ravel and Debussy. The opening also echoes music-box genre pieces sitting as it does in the upper reaches of the keyboard and while these fairies may be delicate Still’s writing suggests there is dark, impish side to their play.

Alfredo Napoleão dos Santos has appeared in Artur Pizarro’s discography before; he recorded his E flat minor Piano Concerto for Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series (Hyperion CDA67984 review) and here he plays the second of his three Romances, an extended nocturne with beautiful cantilena outer sections and a restless central section with elements of Mendelssohn and Henselt. Pizarro is poised and elegant in this lyrical music, effortlessly spinning the long melody over the gentle left hand arpeggio accompaniment. Poise and elegance are the order of the day it seems as he follows it with the seductive tango un sueño en Granada by Frederico Longás Torres, a pupil of Enrique Granados who toured extensively both as a soloist and as Tito Schipa’s accompanist. This work is a delightful addition to the catalogue and, along with the flamboyant Aragón recorded by Stephen Hough (Hyperion CDA67565), makes me want to hear more of his works.

With all the fine pianism on show here coupled with the exploratory spirit that is as strong as it was when Peter Froundjian first thought there might be an audience for these rarities some 35 years ago – and how right he was – it seems that this enterprising festival is in no danger of flagging. I look forward to future festivals that, despite my own constant search for rarities, still manage to surprise and delight me.

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett (September 2022) ~ John France (October 2022)

Rob Challinor

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Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888)
Chant in E major, Op 38 (I) No 1 (1857)
Marie-Catherine Girod (piano)
Chant in A minor, Op 70 No 2 (1873)
Clare Hammond (piano)
Chant in F-sharp minor, Op 67 No 5 (1873)
Artur Pizarro (piano)
Aime-moi, Op 15 No 1 (1837)
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Hivernale (Le rossignol éperdu, No 52) (1910)
Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
Les muletiers devant le Christ de Llivia (Cerdaña, No 4) (1911)
Billy Eidi (piano)
Mel Bonis (1858-1937)
Ophélie (1909)
Jeanne Barbillion (1895-1992)
Bord de la mer, le soir (Provence I) (1926)
Marie-Catherine Girod (piano)
E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822)
Sonata No 2 in F minor, AV27 (c.1807)
Fanny Hensel (1805-1847)
Introduction and Capriccio in B minor (1840)
Kotaro Fukuma (piano)
William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Haze of Noon (1925)
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Fairy Knoll (from Bells) (1944)
Clare Hammond (piano)
William Bolcom (b. 1938)
Graceful Ghost Rag (1971)
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Alfredo Napoleão (1852-1917)
Le rêve (from Trois Romances Op 45) (?)
Federico Longás (1893-1968)
Un sueño en Granada (1937)
Artur Pizarro (piano)