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SCHUMANN LISZT CHOPIN
Alexandra Dariescu

 

 

 
1. Schumann, Robert [7:51]
Variations on the name Abegg Op.1 in F major

2. Liszt, Franz [13:52]
Ballade No.2 S171 in B minor

3. Liszt, Franz [7:04]
Isolde's Liebestrod S447 (after Wagner)

4. Chopin, Fryderyk [3:48]
Andante Spianato Op.22

5. Chopin, Fryderyk [9:50]
Grande Polonaise Brillante Op.22

6. Chopin, Fryderyk [11:01]
Ballade No.4 Op.52 in F minor

Artist(s):
Alexandra Dariescu, Piano

Schumann - Thème sur le nom Abegg Op. 1 


Liszt - Ballade No. 2 in B minor 
 -
Liszt - Tristan und Isolde: Isolden’s Liebestod.

Chopin - Grande Polonaise Brillante (précédée d’un Andante spianato) 

Chopin - Ballade Op. 52

Alexandra Dariescu makes her debut recording for Champs Hill Records in a recital of Schumann, Chopin and Liszt. A hugely popular communicator, Alexandra is a former YCAT artist, a Laureate of the Verbier Academy and has been awarded the Romanian Ambassador’s prize
All three composers on this album contributed to the foundations and development of Romantic piano composition, and this set of works forms one of Alexandra’s most popular piano recital programmes.
Schumann published his Opus 1, Variations on the name Abegg at just 20 years old, playfully translating the last name of the dedicatee - Mademoiselle Pauline Comtesse d’Abegg - into musical pitches [A-Bb-E-G-G] from which his theme begins.
 Of the three composers here, Liszt became the most idolized pianist-composer of the nineteenth century. His Ballade No. 2 in B minor recalls works by Chopin and Schubert, while his transcription from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, demonstrates his influence by the composers he admired.
Chopin’s Grande Polonaise was originally written for piano and orchestra and was premiered coupled with the opening Andante Spianato: but two years later Chopin re-arranged the work for piano solo, which we hear here. Also featured on the disc is Chopin’s Ballade No. 4, Op. 52, one of his most profound compositions. Chopin wrote this melancholy masterpiece at a time when he was in a state of precarious health.

This season, Alexandra made her Carnegie Hall debut in New York and appears in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing both Rachmaninov and Greig concertos. Born in Romania, Alexandra subsequently studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, completing further studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where was made a Piano Fellow.


 

 


The foundations of Romantic piano composition, to which all three composers on this album richly contributed, were effectively laid by Beethoven. Whether explicitly in his blending of fantasy with the rigours of sonata form (in such works as the two Op.27 sonatas ‘quasi una fantasia’, including the so-called Moonlight Sonata), or implicitly in his ‘heroic’ Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas, Beethoven’s innovative piano music mapped the qualities of fantasy and Romantic expression to be used by Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. Both Schumann and Liszt worshipped Beethoven as a great forebear of their art, and while Chopin always felt closer to the limpid musicality and expression of Mozart, his discoveries at the piano of new degrees of harmonic expressiveness and sustained, song-like lyricism, which in turn profoundly influenced both Schumann and Liszt, themselves owed something to Beethoven’s example (consider the Andante cantabile of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata).

Of the three, Liszt became the most idolized pianist-composer (or composer- pianist, some of his admirers would insist) of the nineteenth century. Yet it was even before his fame as a performer was on the ascendant that the 20-year-old Schumann published his Opus 1, Variations on the name ‘Abegg’, in 1830 with the intention of establishing himself as a virtuoso pianist-composer. Although Beethoven and Mozart were arguably the two greatest pianist-composers from the previous fifty years, even more celebrated than either at the time Schumann published his first opus were Friedrich Kalkbrenner, whose exceptionally even technique Chopin greatly admired and under whom he considered studying, and Ignaz Moscheles, a champion of Beethoven’s music and himself widely admired both as pianist and composer in the early nineteenth century.

Schumann’s admiration for Moscheles’s music lasted even after he himself had achieved fame, and almost inevitably his own first set of variations was indebted to the older composer: just months before he completed the Abegg Variations, Schumann wowed an audience in Heidelberg by performing Moscheles’s then- renowned Variations on La Marche d’Alexandre. The influence of that showpiece can be heard in the ostentatious three-part textures (creating the illusion of an extra ‘third’ hand) of the first variation, and the frequent use of showy filigree work in the right-hand treble part.

What is remarkable, though, is how Schumann found his distinctive voice even in this first published work: certainly one may also hear the influence of the warmly expressive harmonies of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas (perhaps most distinctly Op.109 with its variations-form finale). Yet Schumann expresses his own sensibility in its chromatic harmonies and in rhythms more supple than in the Moscheles variations he used as his ‘blueprint’. Most striking is the fourth ‘Cantabile’ variation, where Schumann breaks away from the predominant F major tonality not to the conventional F minor, but to the more remote key of A flat (F minor’s related major key), soon wandering into various other keys as if teasing his listeners by avoiding the expected F minor, creating a curious sense of expectancy before rounding the variations off with a ‘Finale alla fantasia’. There is a similar playfulness in Schumann’s choice of title: the impressively titled ‘Mademoiselle Pauline Comtesse d’Abegg’ to whom his work was ostensibly dedicated was a mere whimsy, having no existence beyond an imaginary excuse to have the last name ‘translated’ into musical pitches – A-B flat-E-G-G – from which his theme embarks.

Just a year later, Schumann embarked on his second career, almost as celebrated as his first as a composer, as a music critic. His maiden review, published on 7 December 1831 in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, was a landmark essay on Chopin’s Op.2, the Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. This included Schumann’s famous acclamation – “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius” – which he put in the mouth of the fictional Eusebius (the contemplative half of
the imaginary duo who featured in several of Schumann’s writings, the other being Florestan, the hot-headed Romantic). Schumann was not in fact alone in his recognition of Chopin’s genius; his teacher, Friedrich Wieck, also published a laudatory notice, whose scarcely less fanciful language the Polish pianist thought hilarious.

More sober and acerbic in character than Schumann, Chopin was nonetheless one of the greatest poets of the piano. Witness the unhurried, limpid grace of the Andante spianato, whose charming central interlude-like episode surely inspired Elgar’s Dream Children some 70 years later. Chopin composed the Andante in 1834 as a preface to his very different Grande Polonaise Brillante which he had started years earlier before leaving Warsaw; extrovert, apparently carefree and increasingly ferocious in its virtuosic demands, this was one of his last essays in that dance form which he completed in 1831 in Vienna (just months before Schumann’s laudatory review was published). Originally written for piano and orchestra, the Grande Polonaise was premiered coupled with the opening Andante spianato, with Chopin playing the solo part, at a Conservatoire concert in Paris, 26 April 1835. However it was widely agreed that the orchestral part was crudely written and largely redundant, and though the two pieces remain coupled, nowadays the Grande Polonaise is heard in a version for piano solo Chopin arranged two years after that premiere.

One of the forms Chopin pioneered for piano literature was the Ballade, appropriating the name from the world of poetry. His Ballade No.4, Op.52, is one of his most profound compositions not only in that form but also in all of his piano works. This was composed in 1842 when Chopin – by then in precarious health (recent scholars suggest he suffered from cystic fibrosis, rather than tuberculosis) – was living with the cross-dressing woman novelist George Sand. They spent summers at her country house in Nohant, central France, and it was partly there that he composed this gently melancholic masterpiece. Rich in its variety of textures, and at times approaching the contrapuntal intricacy of Brahms’s late piano works (and for one startling moment seeming to look forward to the German composer’s Intermezzo in A major, Op.118 with five soft, organ-like chords), it is a work which seems to reveal yet more avenues of feeling with each hearing.

Liszt greatly admired Chopin, and championed his music throughout his career. Sadly it seems that Chopin was rather less enthusiastic about Liszt, a feistier character some two years younger than himself whom he found too much a brash showman to be sympathetic. As Liszt himself recalled, their relations ultimately soured due to the falling out of their respective mistresses, George Sand and Liszt’s Countess Marie d’Agoult. Despite the rift, Liszt composed a biography of Chopin shortly after the Polish composer’s death in 1849 (though much of its actual writing was by his then lover, the Polish princess Caroline von Sayn- Wittgenstein). By then Liszt had retired from the concert platform and had taken the post of Kapellmeister Extraordinaire at Weimar, where he composed several of his most important works. Amongst these was his dramatic single-movement Sonata in B minor, recognized as one of his greatest masterpieces. Having completed this in 1853, he almost promptly wrote a pendent in the same key, his Ballade No.2 (the very form being further evidence of his indebtedness to his late colleague). In a manner that recalls a Chopin scherzo, this initially contrasts a stormy opening theme with a more gentle and reflective idea. Another influence, that of Schubert, is evident in the inquisitive cadence which opens that second subject, recalling as it does the first harmonized cadence of Schubert’s song “Ihr bild” (in which the poet looks upon a portrait of a lost beloved, whose face seems fleetingly to come to life). Whether this suggests a private significance for Liszt (perhaps mourning a past relationship), both the subsequent wistful theme and the stormy opening theme play extensive roles in the drama that follows this introduction. Liszt originally ended this work in an extrovertly virtuosic manner, but decided that a more restrained coda was more in keeping with the essentially intimate emotions of his B minor Ballade.

Though Liszt and Marie d’Agoult’s relationship did not last they had several children, including Cosima who herself became Richard Wagner’s beloved second wife. Wagner’s landmark opera, Tristan und Isolde, was considered by Liszt the greatest music drama of his lifetime – indeed it was the last dramatic work he heard before his own death. It was Liszt who first labelled Isolde’s great final aria in that opera her ‘Liebestod’ (love-death), so naming it in his transcription for solo piano. Liszt’s many works included hundreds of piano transcriptions of operatic excerpts, symphonies and other orchestral works by the various composers he admired, most particularly Schubert, Beethoven, Berlioz and Wagner: these, of course, served a noble purpose of propagating those masterpieces he admired in an age before radio and gramophone could introduce those works around the world by the mere flick of a switch. But Liszt was rarely content to simply place the notes at the pianist’s fingertips, perhaps least of all his own, without embellishing, rearranging or even in effect recomposing several of these works so they could work all the more effectively on his instrument.

Though relatively short (certainly in relation to the four-hour opera!), Liszt’s transcription from Tristan und Isolde, which he titled Isoldens Liebestod, is a masterfully handled transfiguration: note how the Liebestod starts from the baritone end of the keyboard (starting with a short phrase taken from the lovers’ great duet in Act 2) and gradually infuses with light with first the occasional glimmer, Liszt’s tremolandos not merely sustaining the volume of Wagner’s music but in themselves becoming a major part of the music’s texture; then reaching full brilliance in the treble range of the keyboard before subsiding to tranquil fulfilment.

Daniel Jaffé


“Dariescu’s beguiling musicality, unfussy technique, and individual voice are all readily apparent”

Patrick Rucker, Fanfare Magazine

“Fleet of finger, elegant of phrase and pianistically bright, Dariescu uses rubato freely but intelligently”

Byzantion, MusicWeb International

“Dariescu is enormously impressive”

“A very promising debut”

Tim Parry, BBC Music Magazine

“An impressive debut recital disc from one of the RNCM’s recent piano stars.”

Robert Beale, Manchester Evening News

   
   

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