Thursday, 12 April 2018

CD Review (The Straits Times, April 2018)

SCHUMANN Symphonic Etudes Op.13
Artalinna A018 / ****1/2

William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) was one of the notable musical figures of the Victorian musical establishment, whose star has now faded into near oblivion, completely eclipsed by his contemporary continental colleagues. He was a close friend of the early Romantic German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, with whom he shared a similar middle-class outlook to life and musical aesthetics.

Sterndale Bennett's sprawling Piano Sonata in F minor in four movements was composed in 1837 as a wedding gift for Mendelssohn. His style is unabashedly conservative, much in the genteel drawing-room manner of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, but its ambition is closer to Mendelssohn's own sonatas and Chopin's very early Sonata No.1, which are hardly played these days. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in its assiduous craft and pretty filigree. 

Its coupling, Schumann's far more popular Symphonic Etudes, dates from 1834 and was dedicated to Sterndale Bennett. London-based Japanese pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi plays the earlier edition, which does not include the five posthumous variations, but has a slightly longer and fussier final variation that might raise eyebrows. The obvious dedication and virtuosity displayed in his hands make both works well worth hearing.     

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