Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Daniel Grimwood brings an assurance and authority to piano works by Adolph von Henselt on a new release from Edition Peters

Adolph von Henselt (1814-1889) was born at Schwabach in Bavaria. After commencing violin and piano studies at an early age he went on to study under Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) in Weimar.  He later travelled to Vienna, where he undertook composition lessons with Bruckner’s teacher, Simon Sechter (1788-1867), whilst becoming successful as a concert pianist.

In 1837, he settled at Breslau, where he married but the following year migrated to St. Petersburg where became court pianist and inspector of musical studies in the Imperial Institute of Female Education. He made a number of visits to England but St. Petersburg was his home until his death during a visit to Warmbrunn, Germany (now in Poland).

Most of Henselt’s compositions are for piano and date from the earlier years of his life. His influence on the next generation of Russian pianists was immense, his playing and teaching greatly influencing the Russian school of music. Sergei Rachmaninoff held him in very great esteem and considered him one of his most important influences.

Daniel Grimwood’s new recording for Edition Peters  provides a good cross section of Henselt’s piano music from his Op. 1 Variations de concert sur le motif de l’opéra ‘L’elisire d’amore’ (1830) to his Ballade, Op. 31 in B flat major (1854).

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Daniel Grimwood brings a lovely poise to the opening of the Variations de concert sur le motif de l’opéra ‘L’elisire d’amore’ in E major, Op. 1 (1830) contrasted with sudden rapid and fluent responses before moving through passages of tremendous assurance with Schumannesque phrasing. This pianist brings a terrific fluency, quite beautiful phrasing and a real sense of spontaneity as well as a really lovely tone. This is an impressive and substantial set of variations, particularly as this was Op.1.  

Of Deux petites Valses, Op. 28 (1854) there is a rather sultry No. 1 in F major  with Grimwood finding a lovely ebb and flow, beautifully shaping the music. No. 2 in C major again finds this pianist with a lovely, subtle rubato, later pushing this fine waltz forward a little more.

Grimwood finds the subtle rhythmic quality to Mon chant du cygne (‘Mein Schwanengesang’) WoO in A flat major (published in 1885) with wonderful phrasing and an equally subtle rubato with occasional hints of Chopin peering through.

Fantaisie sur un air bohémien-russe, WoO (Op. 16) in A flat major (1843) brings another waltz rhythm with some harmonies. The music builds in strength through some tremendous passages offset by moments of great poetry. This pianist brings a lovely lilt to the quieter moments, still maintaining a lovely flow as this develops into a rather magical piece, especially in this pianist’s hands. The music rises through another dynamic passage before the coda.

There is a fast flow to No. 1 ‘Schmerz im Glück’ in E flat minor  of Deux Nocturnes, Op. 6 (1839) Grimwood finding a darkness to this music only rarely relieved by light.
No. 2 ‘La Fontaine’ in F major recalls more of Schumann than Chopin or Field with this pianist finding a lovely tempo, a constant underlying flow over which the melody runs.

Grinwood’s fabulous phrasing and rubato really lift the Valse mélancolique, Op. 36 in D minor (1857) with a lovely trio section and occasional hints of Chopin this is a lovely work.

The substantial Ballade, Op. 31 in B flat major (original version 1854, second version 1854, third revision 1879) has thoughtful opening arpeggios before the melody emerges to flow forward. Grimwood brings a beautifully rich piano tone, a real strength with his wonderful phrasing adding to the expansiveness of many passages. The music rises through some terrific passages, stormy in character, moving quickly ahead with lovely fluency. This pianist finds so many details, sudden changes and ideas as the music momentarily regains its turbulent quality only to lighten in mood. When the music rises again through some tremendous, fast and furious passages Grimwood provides great virtuosity with sudden outbursts before quietening to lead to a settled coda.

This is a fabulous work, brilliantly played.

The Four Impromptus are not a set, as they range across Henselt’s lifetime. The brief Impromptu No. 1, Op. 7 in C minor (1838) finds a lovely forward pushing flow, Grimwood finding just the right pace and touch. Impromptu No. 2, Op. 17 in F minor (1843) has a lovely rippling, forward movement with this pianist bringing a wonderful fluency and rubato.  No’s 3 and 4 are longer with Impromptu No. 3, Op. 34 ‘Illusion perdue’ in B flat minor (1854–1855) bringing a slower opening that precedes a steadier forward flow through some quite lovely ideas, often rather melancholy in feel, before a beautifully turned coda. Impromptu No. 4, Op. 37 in B minor (1859) has a lighter feel, moving quickly forward with a fast rhythmic idea, gaining even more in tempo through some very fine moments where Grimwood finds a real zest and energy.  

Vöglein-Etüde (‘Si oiseau j’etais’) Op. 2, No. 6 in F sharp major (1837–1838) brings a fast moving, delicate theme with subtly varying rhythms, this pianist showing again his terrific agility and phrasing and a fine lightness of touch before a quieter coda.

Chopin subtly appears again in the Berceuse ‘Wiegenlied’, WoO (Op. 45) in G flat major (1840) but, as is usually the case with Henselt, he has his own voice, adding many exquisite touches.

Broad, expansive chords open the Grande Valse ‘L’aurore boréale’ (‘Das Nordlicht’) in C sharp minor, Op. 30 (1854) before the waltz theme appears, given a lovely rhythmic lift here by Grimwood, beautifully shaped with a lovely rhythmic buoyancy through the many twists and turns of this fine piece before a spectacularly fine coda.

Daniel Grimwood brings such an assurance, such an authority that one is convinced by these works that should prove a real discovery to many.  He is fabulously recorded at the Markgrafensaal, Schwabach, Germany and there are excellent booklet notes from Daniel Grimwood.

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