Friday, 18 November 2016

A HUSUM DIARY 2016 / Days Seven, Eight and Nine

Sightseeing: the harbour of Flensburg,
near the Danish border.

Thursday (25 August)

Recital 10: Martin Jones (7.30 pm)

The septuagenarian English pianist Martin Jones was re-invited to the festival on the strength of his recital on 26 August last year, and he did not disappoint. Like before, he began with some Czerny, his Souvenir de Peste, a set of variations on a very banal theme written for amateurs of the day. Despite Jones' ardent advocacy, one performance is enough for one lifetime. 

Next were the three Images Oubliées of Debussy, works that were only published as late as the 1970s. The 2nd movement's Sarabande is identical to the one in Pour le piano, while the fast finale shares the same folk melody as that in Jardins sous la pluie. This set is regularly recorded in integrale sets of Debussy but seldom performed in concerts. Completing the first half was five Earl Wild transcriptions of Rachmaninov romances. Jones plays each with a beautiful tone, and summons all the resources available for Floods of Spring, which gets a truly thunderous performance.

Australian composer Graham Hair provided more technical fodder in three of his Transcendental Studies, which sound as fiendish as they are fun. Jean Francaix's Éloge de la dance is a play on the waltz rhythm and idiom, with some off kilter moments as if one had a glass of champagne too many. 

Fun defines Franz Reizenstein's Variations on the Lambeth Walk, which has the popular melody dressed in the styles of Chopin, Verdi, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Wagner and Liszt. There was much mirth and giggles from the audience, and these turned into gasps for the encores by Grainger, Moszkowski, Arlen-Rachmaninov-Mann (Over The Rainbow), Pierne and Tchaikovsky-Wild. The little cygnets took a little tumble but like water off a swan's back, got back to the lake in a most graceful way.  

For his hard work, Martin Jones
gets a model Kowloon Motor Bus
which came all the way from Hong Kong
Sightseeing: a fantastic view of the Holstein Gate
and Salt Warehouses from the
Petrikirche (St Peter's Church) in Lübeck.

Friday (26 August 2016)

Recital 11: Zlata Chochieva (7.30 pm)

The name of young Russian Zlata Chochieva is familiar on the strength of her excellent recordings of Chopin and Rachmaninov Études on the Piano Classics label. Up live, she fully lives up to those lofty expectations. Her first half had a nice mix of Galuppi, C.P.E.Bach (which always unfamiliar but crisply minted such that one asks “why have we not heard that before?), hyphenated Bach, hyphenated Franck and Liszt.

One question that lingered was: wasn't that Bach Siciliano by Kempff rather than Friedmann as indicated in the notes. Trust the ever-trustworthy Ludwig Madlener to whip up his iPad with a pdf score and the mystery is solved. Chochieva did play the Kempff version after all. There was Liszt's blustery transcription of Bach's Fantasy and Fugue in G minor (BWV.542) and Friedman's transcription of the Franck's Prelude, Fugue & Variation, which does not sound too different from the Harold Bauer version. Liszt was represented by a Klavierstuck, the totally unfamiliar but beautiful Hymne de la nuit, contrasted with  the rather nastily percussive Csardas Macabre so to end the first half with a bang.

The second half opened with one of Medtner's Skazki and the lovely Canzonata Serenata, which unfolded with great ease and fluidity. That was merely the prelude to Rachmaninov's monumental 40-minute First Sonata in D minor, a Faustian symphony in three movements all but in name. Chochieva has recorded this too, and the live version is just as good. Her prodigious technique is equal to all its ferocious demands, including a Mefistophelean final ride to the abyss that had one on the edge of the seat.  

The amigos at Hartmann's:
with Satoru, Ludwig and French critic
Bertrand Boissard.
The restored Gatehouse of Schloss vor Husum.

Saturday (27 August 2016)

Earlier in the day, Jesper Buhl and Bryce Morrison
had a lively discussion and debate on who had a
greater impact on piano music: Schnabel or Horowitz?

Recital 12: Cyprien Katsaris & Helene Mercier (6 pm)

Cyprien Katsaris is back, after rescuing the festival last year when a scheduled pianist had cancelled at the eleventh hour. With him was the French-Canadian Helene Mercier (perhaps better known as Louis Lortie's partner in a number of Chandos piano duo recordings) in a programme which was a repeat of a recording of Schumann and Brahms on Katsaris' Piano 21 label. To begin were a selection of Schubert Ländler transcribed by Brahms for four hands on one piano. Pleasant, but neither vintage nor memorable Schubert, but nicely done.

The serious business began with Clara Schumann's 1857 transcription of her late husband's famous Piano Quintet in E flat major Op.44. The duo's recording sounded richly sonorous but in reality, the live version on two pianos was a clangourous and banging affair, with no strings to cushion the blows. It also did not help that both pianists did not gel completely together. Its four movements started to sound percussive and it was almost a relief when it all ended.

Less problematic was Brahms' Sonata in F minor Op.34b, which has the same music as his familiar Piano Quintet. Here the duo worked better, and there was much passion and tenderness in its pages. The third movement's relentless march was very well held together, and the finale came as a tour de force. If only the last two bars had come with a true vehemence, it would have been close to a perfect reading. The duo’s encores were two lesser known Hungarian Dances by Brahms, and true to form for this festival, Katsaris said that they tried to avoid the familiar ones.

One week and two days had come to an end so quickly, and I was sorry to see the festival close. There was a usual round of speeches, a buffet dinner with drinks, but the post-festival gloom was only relieved by the thought that the Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum would continue in a year's time. Come 19-26 August 2017, pianophiles and old friends would gather again to share in the sheer joy of experiencing live music at its finest. All thanks to Peter Froundjian and his wonderful team, and to quote a certain Arnie Schwarzenegger, “I'll be back!” 

Seeing double: Fritz from Switzerland,
and Norbert from Germany,
or is it the other way round?
Good things have to come to an end,
final drinks and dinner!
Bidding farewell to Husum:
Daniel Berman (who will perform in 2017),
Ludwig & Kathrin Homburg.

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