SUK: About Mother – Suite; CHAUSSON: Four Dances; REGER: From My Diary – Paul Orgel, piano – MSR

SUK: About Mother – Suite, Op. 28; CHAUSSON: Four Dances, Op. 26; REGER: From My Diary, Op. 82, Vol. 3 – Paul Orgel, piano – MSR MS 1533, 60:33 (1/22/15) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Pianist Paul Orgel inscribed these unusual musical pictures 29-31 August 2014, given his long familiarity with these scores. Each of the suites carries a sentimental value, both to the creators and to Orgel himself.  Perhaps the most immediately touching set of pieces, the Suk suite of 1907, conveys Orgel’s superlatively affectionate reading. Orgel’s liner notes provide more than a passing program for our musical consideration: they inject his strong sympathies even as we hear his musical realization of these pieces.

Orgel opens with the Suk suite, subtitled “Simple pieces dedicated to my son,” as an ongoing process of mourning for both Suk’s father-in-law Antonin Dvorak and Suk’s wife, Otylka (nee Dvorak), who had succumbed to a heart attack. The title, About My Mother, then communicates a perspective from a son who will not know directly his grandfather and mother.  In five sections, the suite bears an idiosyncratic musical syntax that lies somewhere in the region of Janacek, Debussy, Faure, and modal folk elements. The opening Allegro and ensuing Adagio evoke Otylka’s youthful innocence.  All of the five pieces remain miniatures, under five minutes’ duration. The third, Andante, superimposes a heartbeat upon a lullaby, a macabre fusion of life and death.  The erratic heartbeat assumes mortal character in No. 4, Mother’s heart, a testament to both doom and the magnitude of the magnificent woman who has passed away.  Frenzied right-hand octaves yield to a middle section that offers consolation.  The maw-like bass chords resound more of Mussorgsky than Czech doxology.  The last of the suite, Andante, resolves into a C Major epilogue, much Dvorak himself often injected an “and so my children” moral into his musical forms.  The music attempts to dance, to smile affectionately, for beings for whom “death shall have no dominion.”

The 1896 Quelques Danses by Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) extend by some fourteen minutes a recorded legacy sadly small, due to the early death of the composer from a bicycle accident. An amalgam of melodic bits, the opening Dedicace introduces the set.  The Spanish Sarabande proves more substantial, rife with passing harmonies from Cesar Franck.  The melodic gift must be wrought by large stretches in the keyboard writing, especially given that Chausson left no other piano works. The third movement Pavane asks for “no haste” in the playing, but Orgel urges it along.  There may be a slight hint of Ravel in the Pavane, but it moves in more than processional figures, a kind of nocturne-etude.  The last offering, Forlane (Anime), doubles the melodic line in both active hands, a deliberate “study” in parallel octaves. Orgel makes it sound like an excellent competition piece.

Max Reger conceived his Aus meinem Tagebuch, Op. 82 as an extended set of 35 short piano pieces that set a type for Bartok, Busoni, and Hindemith.  As a set of intermezzi, their spiritual forefather remains Brahms.  Volume Three of the Diary (1911) consists of six pieces, opening with Lied, a reflective song in a Romantic (Schumann) style, engaging suspended cadences and irregular phrase lengths, not so far from the Brahms Op. 119, No. 1Albumblatt corresponds to much of Schumann, a light, angular intermezzo, up to a point.  Its middle section becomes dark, a precursor to Bernard Herrmann. The longest (to play) section, Gavotte (Allegretto), hearkens to Bach but in an impish manner.  Its rhythmic pulse seems entirely derivative from Bach’s G Major French Suite. The Trio section “borrows” more Bach, this time from the English Suite No. 3, although the harmonization sounds like Grieg. The Romanze (Andante sostenuto) clearly wants to pay homage to the Brahms opus within Op. 118. The harmonic modulations – F Major in collision with D Major – well exhibit the musical tendency we label post-Romantic, as the restlessness conveys that sensibility, post-Wagner, that traditional procedures fail to contain an independent Faustian spirit.  Melodie again beckons to Brahms, a series of liquid, drooping figures in martial rhythm, that might be echoes of the Brahms Op. 117, No. 2 or to color pages in Debussy.  Finally, Reger proffers a Humoresque (Vivace), a galloping moment of bravura that yields to a passionate outburst in its middle section. Orgel’s light hand in the final pages adds to the insouciance of the occasion.

In sharing his affections in music, Orgel gives us a disc that transcends both sentiment and scholarship and illuminates – on several levels – our response to late Romantic music.

—Gary Lemco

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