Siegfried Idyll = LISZT: Funerailles; Nuages gris; Am Grabe Richard Wagners; WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll (arr. J. Rubinstein); BRAHMS: 5 Intermezzi and 2 Capriccios – David Deveau, piano – Steinway & Sons

Siegfried Idyll = LISZT: Funerailles; Nuages gris; Am Grabe Richard Wagners; WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll (arr. J. Rubinstein); BRAHMS: 5 Intermezzi and 2 Capriccios – David Deveau, piano – Steinway & Sons 30051, 65:05 (8/28/15)  [Distr. by Naxos] ****

Pianist David Deveau assembles a recital (rec. December 2014) devoted to the three great giants of late Nineteenth Century Romantic harmony: Liszt, Brahms, and Wagner. The “revolutionary” tone of the program finds its tenor in the Funerailles of 1849 of Liszt, a work that celebrates the fallen patriots of the 1848 revolts against various monarchs, besides its overt homage to Frederic Chopin.  Passionate but restrained, the Deveau performance doesn’t try to overwhelm us with national fervor in the manner of Horowitz or Bolet, but Deveau does convey the tragic muse with authority.

A Wagner assistant, Josef Rubinstein, arranged the originally thirteen-instrument serenade A Siegfried Idyll for piano solo.  While Deveau’s Steinway instrument extracts some fine colors from this familiar score, it cannot replace the timbres of strings, winds, and horn that raise the specter of Wagner’s forest evocations.  As a piano piece the Idyll emerges in the form of an extended nocturne-improvisation, or a keyboard run-through for a later performance of the instrumental version.

Deveau opens his Brahms group with two capriccios from the Op. 76, the B Minor (the No. 2) and that in C-sharp Minor, Op. 76, No. 5. Deveau takes the Op. 76, No. 2 slightly more marcato than has been its wont, until the last page, where the overlapping voices urge the composer’s innate love for counterpoints. The C-sharp Minor’s jagged accents, rife with upbeats and syncopation, soon erupt into a kind of ballade, heavy in the bass line. The battle between the meters in 6/8, ¾ and 2/4 seems demolished somewhat in the last pages, where duple and triple meters resolve rather grudgingly. Deveau gives the familiar “lullaby” Intermezzo in E-flat Major, Op. 117, No. 1 a wide spectrum of colors in slow motion, truly a litany of the composer’s sorrows of old age. The A Minor Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 1 makes grand, sighing gestures in descending octaves. When the piece ends on an A Major cadence, it invites the A Major Intermezzo, a rocking motif of great beauty that moves through lovely arpeggios and inversions of the main melody. The middle section in F-sharp Minor Deveau plays with wonderful affection, the two versus three meters in fine canon.  Several commentators note the reliance of the E-flat Minor, Op. 118, No. 6 Intermezzo on the Dies Irae of the Requiem Mass, a favorite trope of both Liszt and later Rachmaninov.   Brahms moves this moody elegy into B-flat Minor, which Deveau colors with ripe sensitivity.  The middle section achieves heroic proportions, still in E-flat Minor but moving in a powerful series of crescendos that suddenly break off, leaving shards and fragments of the heroic impulse, while the original theme becomes lyrically tragic. The little C Major Intermezzo, Op. 119, No. 3 offers some consolation, though it, too, betrays a moment of unbuttoned passion.

Deveau concludes with two late Liszt works, the 1881 Nuages gris and the 1883 Am Grabe Richard Wagners. Respectively atonal and grimly laconic, these pieces embrace “the music of the future” that had compelled much of the late Romantics’ aesthetic. Nuages gris appears mystical and experimental, a forecast of Scriabin. At the Grave of Richard Wagner resounds with somber chords from Parsifal, especially its motto dienen, dienen, as a service to music.   Sound engineer Tom Stephenson has captured the carillon sadness of this music in striking hues.

—Gary Lemco

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