KURT SCHWERTSIK (b.1935): Piano Works - Fantasia and Fuga, Op. 105, 14 Albumblätter, 5 Nocturnes, Op. 10b, Am Morgen vor der Reise, Op. 119, Eden-Bar, Seefeld, Op. 6.

Catalogue Number: 07W058

Label: Gramola

Reference: 99209

Format: CD

Price: $18.98

Description: The always surprising octogenarian, founder of the "Third Viennese School" (or "Not the Third Viennese School", depending which way the wind is blowing) and whose avowed preference is writing for large forces, here delights with his piano output, and proves himself a master of the miniature (or not so miniature in the case of the impressive Fantasia and Fugue). Not many composers can boast of having been students of Joseph Marx and Karlheinz Stockhausen, or of having the latter throw a packet of sugar at him during the applause after a controversial première, inscribed with the message, “Please honor us again soon". Despite provocative statements like "People don’t notice it, but I’m an Avant-gardist", Schwertsik never writes music that is remotely unapproachable, though there’s almost always a twist, a subversive move, a sardonic wink. The Albumblätter, composed between 1969 and 2015, are like aphoristic yet highly expressive diary entries. Some are straightforwardly tonal, and all have definite, if malleable tonal centres, though some wander freely through the keys, while others offer a romantic, tonal melody with a questionably harmonically related accompaniment, and gentle major/minor clashes are common. Many are affectionate tributes to or portraits of friends and colleagues of the composer, while the largest, and by a distance the most pianistically demanding of a set that is otherwise of the modest scale of the salon, is a pained epitaph for choreographer Jochen Ulrich. The substantial Fantasia and Fugue is Schwertsik's most ambitious piano work. The Fantasia combines the solemnity and grandeur of Bach with free-flowing treatments of its material from all over music history, and interrupts itself with an Adagio-Intermezzo with a tolling bell in memory of writer and critic David Drew. The fugue is straightforward, free, and lyrical. The early, rather decadent-sounding Nocturnes, of 1964, transparent and economical, of Darmstadt yet not of it, and temperamentally worlds away from the austerity of post-Webernian serialism. They are clearly the work of a composer who has not only not abandoned romanticism but is actively looking for new ways to express it. Only Eden-Bar, Seefeld (1961) sounds like a Darmstadt piece, and is now the only such piano work acknowledged by the composer. The recent (2017) set of deceptively simple pieces, Am Morgen vor der Reise, after Julian Schutting's "The morning before the Journey" which reflects on Austrian life from the standpoint of children, recalls the Albumblätter in their instant approachability overlain with the shadows of expressive and harmonic ambiguity, lending a slightly bitter aftertaste to the 'childlike' pieces. Aya Klebahn (piano).


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