HERMANN KELLER: Keimblätter: Schumann-Metamorphosen für Klavier; Schumann-Metamorphosen für Violine und Klavier; Second Piano Sonata; Third Piano Sonata – Hermann Keller, piano / Tomas Bächli, piano (Second Sonata) / Antje Messerschmidt, violin – NEOS 11041, 72:08 [Distr. by Qualiton] ***:
Hermann Keller (born 1945) is a name that most classical music lovers on this side of the Atlantic won’t have heard before. In fact, as far as I can tell, this is only the second recording of Keller’s music available, both on the NEOS label. However, Keller may be familiar to jazz enthusiasts as a member of the Berlin Improvisation Quartet; his name seems to ring a bell with me in that context. At any rate, very little of his jazz roots inform the music on this disc, though much of it does have an improvisatory feel.
If you’re looking for Schumann in the Schumann-Metamorphosen, then you’ll want to turn to the set for violin and piano. There are obvious quotations from Schumann’s late Violin Concerto and not-so-recognizable ones from the song Mondnacht (Liederkreis, Op. 39) and Geistervariationen (Spirit Variations), the last piece Schumann completed before his final mental breakdown. Since the theme of Geistervariationen (which Schumann claimed was brought to him by the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn) markedly resembles that from the slow movement of the Violin Concerto, it seems Keller wants to explore the dark, haunted world of Schumann’s musical imagination as he approached his final dissolution. Even the earlier Mondnacht concerns a nighttime reverie in which the speaker of the poem imagines his soul flying home over a moonlit landscape. Keller’s music is appropriately haunted and, in spots, haunting: fragmentary, elusive, tormented, as Schumann’s tender melodies are assailed by tone clusters, raking dissonances and glissandi. [If you’re not completely geared up for this hard-hitting serialization, you might have your very own mental breakdown…Ed.]
Schumann is harder to find in Keimblätter (Ectoderms), where the only readily identifiable snippet comes from the bounding, virtuosic “Paganini” section of Carnaval, and this doesn’t show up till more than halfway through the piece. But Schumann’s addiction to cross-rhythms is explored in the frantic polyrhythms of Keimblätter. Teasingly, the work starts with a simple, entirely tonal rolled chord, and occasionally tonal bits and pieces well up in the prevailingly dodecaphonic musical argument.
As in the two sonatas on the disc, Keller seems most intent on exploiting various sonorities available to him at the keyboard—as well as under the hood, so to speak, as he calls for plucked or thrummed strings, either damped or undamped. For me, a little of this goes a long way. I was intrigued by the Schumann Metmorphoses, especially the set for piano and violin. But by the time I waded into the Third Piano Sonata, I felt I was familiar enough with Keller’s idiom to know how this one would play out. Still, for the adventurous, for those who like to keep abreast of contemporary music for piano, and for those who are interested in modern German composers’ fascination with their musical forebear Robert Schumann, there are some interesting and ear-teasing sonorities here to explore.
— Lee Passarella
Another historic recording from Pristine