Friedrich Wuehrer makes a powerful impression in music by two of his specialty composers, Beethoven and Schubert.

Friedrich Wuehrer = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”; 12 Variations on a  Russian Dance, WoO 71; SCHUBERT: “Wanderer” Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 – Friedrich Wuehrer, piano – MeloClassic MC 1023, 72:52 ****: 

Austrian-born Friedrich Wuehrer (1900-1975), if collectors recall him today, remains in the public mind as a fine pianist and strong pedagogue, who, in spite of his dubious politics, contributed much to the cultural life of Vienna, Berlin, Mannheim, and Munich. In spite of the rise of National Socialist aesthetics, Wuehrer often championed contemporary music, particularly that of Bartok, Stravinsky, and the Second Viennese School. [How? Considering the attitude of the Nazis to this sort of music…Ed.] He made many recordings for the Vox label later, often collaborating with strong conductors, like Jonel Perlea and Clemens Krauss. Some years ago, the Tahra label issued several important legacies, including Wuehrer’s work in the music of Beethoven and Franz Schmidt. MeloClassic combines two recitals from 1952 (Hammerklavier Sonata) and 1954, respectively, which display the potent agility and canny lyricism of his style.

Wuehrer begins (17 November 1952) with the most dramatically massive of all the Beethoven sonatas, the 1818 Hammerklavier, whose synthesis of conjunct and disjunct elements still manages to fulfill the requirements of sonata-form. Wuehrer approaches the first movement from a distinctly lyrical point of view, as if the more meditative impulses attempt to quell some dire fortune on the horizon. The spirit of the dance infiltrates much of the interior passagework in thirds, even given its contrapuntal character. Wuehrer reveals a powerful, fluid trill in the course of Beethoven’s “improvisational” exclamations of his materials, whose dissonances Wuehrer does not attempt to soften. The grumpy Scherzo that follows seems intent on disabusing us of our rhythmic expectations, breaking off mid-course for a tempestuous flurry in the manner of one of the late bagatelles.

From the outset of the monumental Adagio sostenuto, Wuehrer sets a broad tempo that ushers in a cathedral of meditative thought. An extended series of variations in f-sharp minor, the music proceeds intimately, at first seeming to stammer some deep truth rife with what Nietzsche calls “tragic wisdom.” Several passing riffs from the first movement, originally aggressive, now appear subdued and resigned. The later fourth of the movement conveys a sonata quasi fantasia sensibility that makes us wish to here Wuehrer in those Op. 27 sonatas.  The finale, a mighty fugue, certainly has Wuehrer’s application of Bach polyphony spliced to Beethoven’s late style; so again, we wonder if any of Wuehrer’s Bach survives in his recorded legacy. The outer Introduction and coda, by contrast, invite a kind of disingenuous simplicity to the otherwise contrapuntal occasion, which Wuehrer renders with speed and volatility.

MeloClassic follows the epic Beethoven sonata with Franz Schubert’s one supreme entry into virtuoso keyboard music, his 1822 C Major Fantasie, “Wanderer,” here performed by Wuehrer in Stuttgart 5 April 1954.  Besides having been composed for a pupil of Hummel, the piece derives its motive power from the lugubrious lied after a poem by Georg Philipp Schmidt, with its melancholy sense of wanderlust. Wuehrer takes a rather stentorian approach to the opening statement, and the piano tone, too, seems heavier than we heard in the 1952 recital. The secondary theme, in E-flat, enjoys a softer application. Finally, in the third thematic group, we can enjoy Wuehrer’s pearly legato, even if remains rather stingy with it. The Allegro con fuoco having subsided, Wuehrer enters the c-sharp minor version of “The Wanderer” lied and its ensuing, seven variants, several of which resound richly.  The aggressive Prestissimo promises and delivers any number of degrees of scampering virtuosity, leading to the inexorable fugal treatment of the rhythmic motif for the final Allegro. Wuehrer proves himself a more than capable acolyte of the Schubertiads, easily on a par with young Brendel, and the older generation of whom Fischer, Schnabel, Kempff, and Erdmann led a colorful array of interpreters from the Austro-German school.

Wuehrer concludes (5 April 1954) his Stuttgart recital with Beethoven’s 1797 12 Variations on the Russian Dance from the ballet Das Waldmaedchen by Paul Wranitzky.  The piece, set at first in A Major, offers a series of entertaining, if not particularly profound, exercises in fioritura and brilliant coloration. For three of the variants, Beethoven turns to the minor mode, along with his penchant for glossy syncopations, rhythmic shifts, and striking runs in competing registers. The velocity and grace with which Wuehrer executes the set might have convinced us that Kempff were at the keyboard, given the lithe intelligence that guides the progression.

—Gary Lemco