d’ALBERT Piano Works. Lane (Hyperion) – INKPOT

Eugen d’ALBERT (1864-1932)
Sonata in F-sharp minor Op.10
Nos.2 & 3 from Klavierstücke, Op.16
Acht Klavierstücke, Op.5
Capriolen Funf schlichte Klavierstücke, Op.32

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by Johann D’Souza
Eugen d'AlbertWe owe a lot to the pianists of our generation for championing great piano music which in the past 40 years has hardly been recorded. The name Eugen d’Albert is not a totally unknown figure in the least. More is known about the pianist than his compositions. German, but born in Glasgow and had his early lessons in London, d’Albert was one of the first pianists to introduce Debussy in Germany, as well as other works by English composers such as John Ireland and Arnold Bax. Franz Liszt called him the “Young Lion” and he was well-known for his definitive interpretation of Brahms D minor Concerto. He was also said to be one of those pianists who had a strong influence on the German school of pianists including Edwin Fischer, Kempff and Schabel. Hans von Bulow had this to say about him:

D’Albert played delightfully in Berlin the day before yesterday. It was an ideal, an intrinsically finished performance….. I tell you, he’s no end of a fellow….. his instinct has providentially set him early on the right road.

If one has never heard his works before, the opening track, the ‘Mässig, aber Leidenschaftlich bewegt’ of the Sonata in F-sharp minor is very much reminiscent of late Brahms, especially if one is familiar with works like his big Sonata No.3 in F-sharp minor which coincidentally is also written in the same key. The work is heavy laden with dark octave chords which allows the pianist, Piers Lane, to exploit the darker regions of the work as seen in the second movement of the piece. It is here that Lane draws you into the music and into the contemplative nature of the work.

The third movement is the most interesting, especially if one is a lover of Bachian piano style; as the notes point out “whereas Brahms’ finale develops a little in the mode of Beethoven’s F sharp major, Op 78, d’Albert exerts his Bachian muscles and produces a skilful triple Fugue”. The third movement is developed using a variety of Bach’s masteries, with features of the Preludes and Fugues, such as the ‘St Anne Fugue’ BWV 552 and the Passacaglia in C minor. Lane’s skillful use of the pedal, especially the sostenuto pedal, brings about an emotional strength in his reading. If there is anything amiss in this piece it would be his slight preference for a quicker pace which I feel could have been restrained a bit more.

D’Albert was well-known for his eccentricities and demanding qualities. I suppose he displayed characteristics very similar to Glenn Gould. Failing to keep a single marriage permanent and apparently quite irresponsible towards the duties of a father, he was married six times – once to the famous pianist Theresa Carreno, who was a noted Beethoven exponent. She was also quite a prolific composer and was greatly admired by the legendary pianist Claudio Arrau who praised her for her technique and inner depth in interpretation. It would be interesting to hear some of the compositions of Theresa Carreno, which is said to be heavily influenced by her husband.

Piers LaneIf one enjoys virtuostic piano music, d’Albert’s short pieces of four to six minutes each are able to draw a fair amount of interest. While the pieces are not played at extreme ends of the speed spectrum, his pieces are laden with difficult octave portions which can only be tackled by a mature exponent of the piano. This is Piers Lane’s forte and he lives up to the label of a great virtuostic pianist. In fact none of the works on this disc are for the average pianist.

Piers Lane >>
Detail of photo by Simone de Peak

D’Albert’s composition Acht Klavierstücke, op.5 consists of eight short pieces of music each with a different realization of musical insight. My particular favorite is No.3 in D minor, marked “Bewegt“. It is very melancholic in nature, only 1’48” long, but d’Albert is able to express what he wants to say in this mere short span of time. Through these pieces it is quite evident that he was subject to native German influences – Brahms as mentioned before, while Schubert’s writing style is featured in the way he sculpts some of his phrases. The notes point out that d’Albert knew and played the Brahms Intermezzi, Capricci, Paganini Variations and the D minor concerto often and knew these pieces well. These become clear in the introduction of his later pieces which can be so easily mistaken for a Brahmsian work. I suppose this relationship is very similar to the friendship Rachmaninov and Medtner shared, where the latter practically worshipped the ground on which Rachmaninov walked.

D’Albert’s Serenata is a short, seductive piece written in 1906. It has some of the characteristics of Chopin’s Mazurkas mixed in and blended with a bit of Percy Grainger or some earlier Gershwin. This may sound so queer but this is the impression I get for this beautiful serenade piece. Some of the virtuoso elements do sound a bit like Strauss-Schluzer transcriptions of Johann Strauss but because the piece is so short, this is not fully developed.

The last set of pieces, the Capriolen, was greatly influenced by the black people he had come into contact with. There is some hint of Jazz and some Dixieland of which he was once known to have said “In Dixieland I take my stand to live and die in Dixie”. We hear this in No.4, a short snippet entitled Missie Massa.

This disc serves as a great introduction to the composer, I am now very tempted to get his concertos (Hyperion 66747) which I am sure will be equally interesting as well. Try it if you love piano music from the turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is).

JOHANN D’SOUZA still cannot figure out why the snake is part of the Chinese Zodiac and wonders why animals like the Fish are excluded.

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827: 31.1.2001 Johann D’Souza

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