GMCD 7310 – Martin Werner plays Schubert, Schumann, Grieg, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Felder

Martin Werner – Piano

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International Record Review, February 2007

This is the first recording by the 15-year-old Swiss Pianist Martin Werner, sanely described in the booklet as ‘talented’ and ‘very gifted’. The Programme consists almost entirely of short, very familiar nineteenth- and early twentieth-century pieces. `Almost’ denotes the Sang of the Blue Lizard by the Swiss composer Alfred Felder (b.1950), composed as recently as 2004.

In the obvious sense, Werner’s playing is perfectly musical, nor is his technique challenged by the demands of his chosen works – except for the two Schubert Impromptus that begin the disc, wherein one is reminded that music of less-than-transcendental difficulty can still be pianistically exacting. In the Trio section of the A flat, D935 No. 2, the melodic line played by the little finger of the right hand an the third leg of each triplet is imperfectly controlled, so that we don’t hear it as forming a duet with the thumb’s melody an the main beats. The Trio as a whole sounds too big in relation to the outer sections. Of course Schubert wants contrast, but it is a matter of degree. The piece also sounds too big as a whole, probably because it is played in isolation from the rest of the opus. Both the Opp. 90 and 142 sets form a concise four-movement pianistic `Symphony’, and the present piece is definitely the `Intermezzo’ (in the Brahmsian symphonic sense) of its group. Werner will probably gauge it more to scale if he ever plays the opus in its entirety.

Things go similarly in the other A flat Impromptu, D899 No. 4. In the right-hand texture built an groups of four semiquavers (16th-notes), a middle finger always acts as the fulcrum between both outer ones, and this is trickier to control than it looks on the page. Again, the Trio (more overtly passionate than the previous one) still sounds out of proportion to the main section.

The rest of the Programme goes much better. The first of the two Schumann Kinderszenen has appropriate Innigkeit, while the triple-time march of `Wichtige Begebenheit’ is well articulated despite the occasional boom and woolliness of the piano sound below middle C, this being a function of the instrument and the recording acoustic. The two Grieg Lyric Pieces are also well characterized and contrasted. In Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, Werner avoids excessive Pressure in the agitated outer sections and doesn’t overly `milk’ the melodie arcs-en-ciel of its Trio. Of the two Rachmaninov Preludes that follow, the famous C sharp minor is well judged, with intensity saved for the da capo of the main section, while the tinkling arabesques of the G sharp minor twinkle nicely in the treble.

Felder’s Song of the Blue Lizard concludes the recital, though in his short booklet note (additional to the excellent, more detailed one by Robert Matthew-Walker) Werner writes: `I have put the contemporary piece of work by Alfred Felder in the centre. It is a contrast to the romantic works, and with this I would consciously like to build a bridge between contemporary and classical music.’. Whoever determined the actual track-order certainly didn’t read that statement. As it stands, though, Felder’s piece (a piano solo from his Trio for flute, clarinet and piano, with a new beginning and end written for the present recording) makes perfect sense coming after Rachmaninov. Its dissonant gong-and-bell sounds and fleet figuration punctuated by staccato chords create an attractive Scriabin/Ligeti sonority, with delicate glissandos inside the instrument near the end.

The disc is recorded at a high enough level so that I reset the maximum volume and listened again to the first track in order not to misjudge the pianist’s dynamic levels. This Programme is obviously designed as a ‘taster’, but at the next stage it would be good to hear how Martin Werner handlos more substantial musical structures.
Steppen Pruslin