Sunday, 26 April 2015

Much fine playing from Rosemary Tuck and the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge on a new Naxos release of Virtuoso Variations for Piano and Orchestra by Carl Czerny

It is an interesting thought that Carl Czerny (1791-1857), a pupil of Beethoven and a teacher of Liszt died the same year that Edward Elgar was born.

Czerny made his debut as a pianist in 1800 achieving renown for his Beethoven interpretations. He later chose to become a teacher rather than a travelling virtuoso, counting among his pupils Beethoven’s nephew, Karl as well as Thalberg and Liszt. Indeed, Liszt’s Transcendental Studies were dedicated to him.

As a composer he was incredibly prolific with an output of over 1,000 works ranging from chamber and orchestral to sacred choral works. Some of the explanation for his huge output may be explained by his apparent production line method of putting together his works. In his interesting booklet notes for a new release of Virtuoso Variations for Piano and Orchestra from Naxos, Allan Badley tells us that Czerny had samples of every conceivable type of passage work filed in a large cupboard with students asked to transpose selected passages into the appropriate key and incorporate them into the works they were copying for the composer.

The impression given by John Field is perhaps a little misleading in that Czerny produced many works intended as studies or exercises for which, no doubt, there was a lucrative market. It is certainly difficult to browse second hand sheet music without coming across a piece by Czerny.

This new Naxos  release entitled Bel Canto Concertante features pianist Rosemary Tuck with the English Chamber Orchestra  conducted by Richard Bonynge . All the works on this disc are billed as World Premiere Recordings.

All the works on this new disc are variations on operas that were popular at the time beginning with Czerny’s Introduction, Variations et Presto finale sur un Thème favori de l’Opera Norma de Bellini, Op. 281.

The orchestra gives a forthright, very operatic opening statement of the theme before the piano enters in a rather Chopinesque style. Rosemary Tuck brings an attractive lightness of touch, particularly in the passages that could sound rather heavy and four square. Later there is a lighter, buoyant variation to which Tuck brings a lovely touch. There are moments of intricate dexterity with plenty of passages to challenge any pianist, Tuck bringing much fluency and dexterity. There are some attractive moments of limpid fluency with the English Chamber Orchestra under Bonynge pointing up these works to fine effect.

This is not a great work but it does have some attractive moments.

Unlike Bellini, Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782-1871) is not a name that will be familiar to many, yet he was the foremost representative of opéra comique in 19th century France. There is a fine orchestral opening to the Grandes Variations di Bravura sur deux motifs de l’Opera Fra Diavolo de D.F.E. Auber, Op. 232 nicely shaped by Bonynge. The music moves through variations that are most entertaining, Tuck bringing a fine touch, ably supported by the ECO. There are faster variations that bring some terrific playing from Tuck, rhythmically lively with terrific phrasing, having a real bounce and panache.  Bonynge and his orchestra find some fine moments in the purely orchestral passages. Later there is an entertainingly enjoyable, lightly galloping rhythmic variation where Tuck rises to every moment with a sure touch, even those passages that hurtle off in a rather comic, manic way. There is a tremendously fluent coda.

Two grand opening statements for piano and orchestra open the Introduction, Variations et Polacca dans le Style brillant sur la Cavatine favorite ‘Tu vedrai la sventurata’ chantée par M. Rubini dans l’Opera Il Pirata de Bellini, Op. 160 preceding another rather Chopinesque, flowing, slow melody. There are variations here that are full of charm with Tuck bringing some lovely touches as well as some beautifully limpid, dexterous, flowing passages. At times this pianist brings some terrifically fluent playing in the more virtuoso variations. There seems to be a more genuine cohesion and flow to these variations, expertly brought out by Tuck, Bonynge and the ECO.

These are delightful variations given a fine performance.

The name Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867) is also not well known today except perhaps to opera buffs. He studied as a singer in Bologna before turning to composition writing nearly ninety operas.

The Introduction et Variations Brillantes sur le Marche favori de l’Opera Gli Arabi nelle Gallie de Pacini, Op. 234 brings a thoroughly operatic, dramatic orchestral opening statement with Tuck bringing more fine Chopinesque phrases before launching into a light-hearted, rhythmic variation. The work moves through variations of great dexterity with passages of fine rhythmic bounce. There are some particularly attractive moments with, towards the end, a particularly fine flowing variation with some very intricate playing before leading to the coda.

There is much fine playing here from Rosemary Tuck and the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge in these variable, though often attractive pieces that contain moments of poetry, charm and wit and not a little virtuosity. This fine new recording fills a useful gap in the recorded repertoire.

These artists are well recorded at St Silas Church , Kentish Town, London, England and there are excellent booklet notes from Allan Badley.

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