GMCD 7277 – Piano Music by Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen
Kirsten Johnson – Piano
MusicWeb Monday May 16 2005
For admirers of romantic era piano music especially those partial to Schumann and floral romance. If you like one of these two CDs you will want the other as well. …
The last time my path crossed with the music of Schulz-Beuthen it was for a review of Sterling CDS-1049-2 reviving a handful of his orchestral works. That disc is now joined by these two from Guild.
Schulz-Beuthen was Silesian. Like Borodin his main profession was as a chemist in his Schulz-Beuthen’s case in Breslau. His teachers were Reinecke and Moscheles. Grieg and Svendsen were among his fellow students. He moved to Switzerland where he found company in the circle of Mathilde Wesendonck, Wagner and Gottfried Keller (the novelist on whose book Delius based his opera, A Village Romeo and Juliet).
He was a prolific writer. There are ten symphonies – eight complete and the last two of which were left unfinished. There are ten oratorios and much else. On the showing of that Sterling disc his orchestral music bears out various influences: obstreperous Beethoven, romantic Schumann. There is Brucknerian exclamation as well as serene Elgarian string writing. Most of his manuscripts were destroyed in the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945.
The piano music on the all Schulz-Beuthen disc was written between 1873 and 1880, predominantly 1873-4.
The Three Pieces Op. 16 are mostly Brahmsian in type although No. 1 is much closer to the dreamily musing Schumann. The Op. 17 Stimmungsbilder are free-ranging mood-pictures in which a Chopin-like elegance brushes the romance of Schumann. From a year later come the Five Piano Pieces Op. 19. The playful Baroque pointing of the Allegro giocoso from this set is very nicely done (tr. 10) as is the glittering and supercharged music-box jollity of the Allegro fantastico (tr. 13). The Op. 22 set starts most unheroically despite the title which seems to have been picked up rather casually from the last piece: allegro eroico. There is an ineffable Brahmsian contentment about the lovely poco moderato (tr. 16) and this is superbly put across by Kirsten Johnson.
The Drei Clavierstucke – Cyklus in Sonatenform Op. 23, start off with a rather stiff and dispiriting Allegro followed by a delicate and fragrant allegretto moderato. The final movement with its Mozartian trilling and oddly Brahmsian effusion brings to an end a not entirely successful sequence.
In 1880 there came the four movement Abshchieds – Klange – Gedenk-Blätter Op. 28. The bell-like music-box moto perpetuo chimes away: Brahms-lite. There is a playful winking allegretto moderato which looks back to Mozart. However the andantino con espressione reconnects with the idioms of Brahms and Schumann.
Pleasing music-making here. Op. 16 No. 1 as well as Op. 22 No. 3 make this something that admirers of the romantic piano school must hear.
The second CD mixes Herman Goetz (feted on CPO and Genesis) with a single epic sonata by Schulz-Beuthen. The Lose Blätter are all quite short and each bears a descriptive title. The comforting warmth of Heimatklang (tr. 7) runs to 5:09 and sings like a benediction. The Liebescherze is halting and playful. Bei Dir! (tr. 5) is an unmissably dreamy piece in a Schumann-related idiom: all gentle zephyrs and wavering reeds. Fruhlingsgruss has the power of a Chopin scherzo and begins with something that sounds very like a rumba though the impression soon fades only to return at 00.50. The sequence is dedicated to Clara Schumann and there is an affectingly and affectionately feminine domestic quality to them.
The Genre-Bilder are from Goetz’s years in Zurich from 1870 to 1876 the year of his death. Here the dedicatee is Marie Goetz. Malcolm Macdonald, who provides his usual communicative notes for both releases, appositely links both Goetz sets with Schumann’s Waldszenen and Bunte Blatter. Each of the six Goetz pictures carries a superscription in the form of a poem whose mood is captured by the music. The poets are Robert Prutz, Theodor Sturm (North Germany’s Thomas Hardy – if Hardy is not Dorset’s Sturm), Nikolaus Lenau, Wilhelm Muller. and Albert Trager. Johnson injects some welcome hardness into the allegro impetuoso entirely appropriate to the Lenau poem. However Goetz is not quite equal in darkness-envocation to the challenge of the poetry. He is much more at ease with the halting drowsy romance of the lovely Trager lullaby that ends the sequence.
Going by the far from successful Drei Clavierstucke Cyklus in Sonatenform Op. 23 on the first CD, Schulz-Beuthen was not at ease with sonata form. His six movement Alhambra Sonata is from 1878-82. It is fascinating and parallels Tarrega’s Recuerdos (a study in tremolo) in Auf Dem Wege Zur Alhambra. These are big movements and the mood is grand in proportion to the mission. All the evidence points to Schulz-Beuthen being profoundly inspired by his subject although the contemporary claims for Arabian flavouring go for nothing or very little now. Unsurprisingly the sonata was inspired by the composer’s visit to the Alhambra. In the Eintritt In Der Alhambra the composer returns to his vertiginous music-box style we know from the first CD but here with more sombre asides. Die Abenceragen is march-like and carries the superscription ‘Kampfspiel’. It is more about panoply and grandeur than about battle. Im garten Xeneralife evokes a moonlit stroll through the magical gardens still warm with the decaying heat of the day. Do not be misled by the titles: this is very much Schumann with a faintly exotic twist. This is however the same Alhambra that would later inspire de Falla to write his Nights In The Gardens Of Spain. Each of the six movements is a big piece and they range from 4:43 to 9:48. In total the Sonata plays for circa 40 minutes. Sonata? I think not; perhaps ‘symphonic suite’ is a better description. Whatever you call it there is much here to enjoy and Schulz-Beuthen is often freshly inventive. There is very little that is routine, tired, careworn or shabby.
Definitely for the admirers of romantic era piano music especially for those partial to Schumann and floral romance. Johnson, Guild and Macdonald have done a superb job – if you like one of these two CDs you will want the other as well.