Eduard Erdmann in Recital, 1949-1958 = BYRD: Will Yow Walke the Woods soe Wylde; BEETHOVEN: Polonaise in C Major, Op. 89; SCHUBERT: Moment musical in F Minor, D. 780/3; Impromptu In A-flat Major, D. 935/2; HELLER: Prelude in A-flat Major, Op. 81/15; MUSSORGSKY (1838-1881) Pictures at an Exhibition; SCHOENBERG: Sechs kleine Klavierstuecke, Op. 19 – Eduard Erdmann, (piano) – Forgotten Records FR 2020 (54:30) ****:
Eduard Erdmann (1896-1954) enjoys a limited reputation as a musical scholar and composer whose aesthetic denied the keyboard’s capacity for “singing,” but whose performances, in spite of his theories, achieved a visionary refinement. After his mother moved to Berlin in 1913, Erdmann took composition courses with Heinz Tiessen, 1915-1918. In 1919, Erdmann made his orchestral debut with Hermann Scherchen, who also performed his Five Songs after Heine. Prior to the rise of Nazism in Germany, Erdmann’s Berlin acquaintances included Artur Schnabel, Alois Haba, Alma Moodie, and Ernst Krenek. In 1925 Erdmann accepted an invitation from Hermann Abendroth to the Cologne Conservatory. Erdmann played for the opening of the Bauhaus in Dessau, and in 1929 he gave concerts with Walter Gieseking. Critical of Nazi policies, Erdmann withdrew from Cologne; and, in protest of abuses toward colleagues, he toured out of Germany with increased frequency. In 1946 Hamburg, Erdmann performed pieces specifically banned by Nazi decree, by Schoenberg, Krenek, Berg, and Hindemith. In June 1958 he gave a benefit recital for the ailing Clara Haskil. Erdmann died of a heart attack in a Hamburg hospital June 21, 1958.
Forgotten Records restores, along with the previously issued (by Tahra, TAH 199-200) 1954 Hamburg performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a collection of what might pass as miniatures, except for the Schoenberg Five Small Piano Pieces, Op. 19 from 1949 Hamburg. The various, small pieces attest to the catholicity of Erdmann’s taste. He opens with a poised, Renaissance piece, “Will Yow Walke the Woods soe Wylde” by William Byrd, from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, Hamburg, 12 December 1951. The gentle antiphons and overlapping phrases bespeak a sensitive, sympathetic spirit, not so clinical as to make us think Erdmann kin to one like the American scholar-pianist, Charles Rosen. From the same recital we have Beethoven’s 1815 Polonaise in C Major, Op. 89, his sole such opus, whose fluid opening in ¾ leads to the popular rhythm that Chopin would make his own. Erdmann makes the staccato scales sing in jocular motion, with repetitive bass figures under a coloratura right hand. A piece meant for the nobility, Beethoven dedicated the work to the Russian Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, whom Beethoven had met at the Congress of Vienna.
The music of Franz Schubert figured prominently in Erdmann’s programs. And Forgotten Records provides us with two pieces recorded by Hamburg Radio 17 May 1950. The ubiquitous Moment Musical in F Minor, D. 780/3 gallops by, but the A-flat Impromptu, D. 935/2 basks in the warm glow of its theme and variations. The more forceful figures suggest the tempests behind the veil of Austrian lyricism. From the previously quoted recital 12 December 1951, Erdmann plays a lulling Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 81/15 by Stephen Heller (1813-1888), the Hungarian composer influential to the Romantics but generally neglected.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, rather a quick-paced reading, derives from the radio broadcast of 19 May 1954. The lines seem relatively bare and colorless, until the Il vecchio castello, whose troubadour’s song assumes a romantic enchantment. Les Tuilleries offers some play, but the Polish ox-cart, Bydlo, resounds with both solid and detached chords. Nimble fingers realize the Ballet of the Baby Chicks in Their Shells, while stentorian assertions and quirky flatteries define Samuel Goldenberg et Schmuyle. Fleet and articulate motion leads us through Limoges, abundant with life; then, the fateful descent into the Catacombs, bleakly plaintive. Tremolos and trills illuminate any discussion with the dead in scalar utterances in a dead language. The sudden thud announcing the arrival of the Witch Baba Yaga has an ironic, eerie resonance, the ripples close to the Catacombs. The repetition by Erdmann, more marcato, has a pungent series of attacks as the music ascends to the Great Gate of Kiev. Not so colossal in stature as Richter’s views, the Erdmann carries a devotional mien that does not lack for octave power. The tolling bells announce a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, the whole a kind of spiritual journey whose initial Promenade has provided Mussorgsky with his grand memorial to Viktor Hartmann.
Erdmann concludes with Arnold Schoenberg’s 1911 Six Small Piano Pieces, conceived after the composer had already launched his odyssey into atonality. Compressed, even dematerialized, the pieces contain aspects of competing bitonalities, and only No. 2, Langsam, keeps a key center, in G. The No, 4, Rasch, aber leicht, plays a mere 17 seconds, The last of these, rather suspended in time, Sehr langsam, leaves us convinced that Erdmann paid sincere respects to a school of composition here, 15 June 1949, that only a few years before, has been a condemned, forbidden universe.