Klavier 1853 = LISZT: Ballade No. 2 in b minor; C. SCHUMANN: Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Op. 20; R. SCHUMANN: Gesaenge der Fruehe, Op. 133; BRAHMS: Piano Sonata No. 3 in f minor, Op 5 – Hyeyeon Park, piano – Blue Griffin BG351, 77:00 (9/5/17) [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Korean virtuoso Hyeyeon Park certifies 1853 as a banner year in keyboard music.
The premise of this recital (rec. 7-9 July 2015) establishes 1853 as a seminal year in classical music, embracing the founding of two piano manufacturers, Steinway and Bechstein, as well as the premieres of prominent operatic works by Verdi, La Traviata and Il Trovatore. Taking Johannes Brahms as a central musical persona, we follow him in 1853 in the company of the violinist Remenyi, and thus to meetings with Liszt, Joachim, and the Robert Schumanns. The rest has become standard Romantic-music history, with Remenyi’s remaining in the Liszt entourage, while Brahms became a prodigy championed by the Schumann partisans, even having admitted as part of the intimate family circle.
Liszt’s 1853 Ballade No. 2 takes its literary cue from a poem, “Lenore,” by Gottfried August Buerger, that same poet from whom Franck fashioned his tone-poem The Accursed Huntsman. The poem recounts the bitter complaint of a woman to God for having taken her fiancé in death in the Seven Years’ War. To “atone,” God assigns her to share death so she can unite with her lover in the grave. Liszt utilizes two principal motives, which he manipulates with his patented “transformation of theme.” The tumultuous bass runs from Park find a gentle foil in the chromatic melody, which several times invokes the b minor Sonata. If the chords assume a “haunted” character, we must acknowledge the influence of the music’s program, which includes a cemetery nuptial prior to Lenore’s punishment for blasphemy.
A somber theme from Robert Schumann’s Bunte Blaetter, Op. 99, No. 4, serves as the inspiration for Clara Schumann’s 1853 seven Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, her present to celebrate Robert’s 43rd birthday. The minor key variation invokes another of Robert’s works, one of his Nachtstuecke, Op. 23. In the course of the set, we hear homage to Chopin, Beethoven, and to the polyphonic elements Robert exploits himself in his Symphonic Etudes. Park’s dark colors more than suggest a look forward to the Brahms style of chordal voicing, given the likelihood that Brahms knew both this, specific piece and Robert’s Op. 99, since Brahms, too, set the No. 4 as a theme and variations.
By 1853 Robert Schumann’s mental health had already begun to deteriorate, and many commentators have passed on negative opinions of the set of Gesange der Fruehe, Op. 133, which Schumann wrote in four days. Entitled “Songs of the Dawn,” the five pieces bear a mythological context to Diotima, priestess of Mantinea, while having been dedicated to the folklore writer Bettina Brentano. The two outer pieces, in D Major, serve as exterior pillars to support a central movement, Lebhaft, in A Major, and the second and fourth episodes in b minor. Admittedly, the quality of writing seems uneven, with occasional gallops and moody, contrapuntal sections, meditative and lyrical, but repetitious in their figurations. Still, wwith Park’s sympathy, the music exudes a tight-lipped cheer in the midst of plagal cadences fit for a devotional occasion.
Brahms may well have seized upon Robert Schumann’s “Grand Sonata” in f minor, Op. 14 (1836) as the model for his own 1853 Sonata No. 3 in f minor, Op. 5. In five movements, the scheme of this often “heavy” composition follows a Classical architecture, though infused with a Romantic spirit of poetic, programmatic inspiration, namely in some lines from Otto Inkermann for the Andante espressivo. The first movement, Allegro maestoso, moreover, alludes to the ubiquitous Beethoven Fifth motif (and its concomitant c minor mode), even while gravitating in its tender moments, to D-flat Major. Park takes the beginning of the development section, in F-sharp and 4/4 very slowly, moving with light, pearly play to the main melody’s triplet figures. Her bell tones, when they occur, appear in a colossal G-flat. The slowness of Park’s tempo increases the sense of meditative expansion that will eventually wander into C Major before wrenching us back into the dark home of f minor. Despite metric shifts and various syncopated figures, Brahms means to end in a triumphant F Major, which has Park intoning with resounding authority.
Brahms utilizes the quote from Inkermann to create a love duet, Andante espressivo, balanced between D-flat and A-flat. The sheer diversity of the movement – its four tempo markings in five meters – bespeaks the Schumann influence, especially in his novelettes. The music traverses the circle of fifths in dotted rhythm and small, melodic sequences, each ringing with liquid arpeggios over a throbbing ostinato. Brahms indicates ppp for his intimate musings, often to build upon a pedal point to some huge, ardent climax. Park’s left hand beats out triplets and a D-flat pedal point and the effect crosses a martial resolve with a lover’s benediction. Suddenly, the Scherzo: Allegro energico sweeps forward in f minor, with a keen aim at b-flat minor. A minimum of pedal urges the music in biting accents. The trio meditates and slightly gallops, in e-flat minor. The sense of tolling bells becomes martial and acute, thundering down a scale and then re-integrating the main Scherzo motif, all swagger and suppressed passion.
The 2/4 fourth movement Brahms marks Rueckblick – backwards glance – with any number of Beethoven “fate” emblems that muse and dance and then dissipate into the aether. The music has grounded itself in b-flat minor but its late pages clearly move chromatically to e-flat minor. On a b-flat minor chord the music hesitates, ready to enter the final movement 6/8, Allegro moderato ma rubato. Much of the opening materials swaggers or shimmers in the manner of a Schubert impromptu. Brahms moves to a canon device and layers his syncopations to produce a “fateful” progression that resembles a hymn of thanksgiving. The sense of relief proves most fervent in the transition to F Major, now the mode of a series of variations that have running figures in the left hand while the whole moves to a rich, contrapuntal coda in accelerated time that rings like Mozart and Schumann combined, in plagal cadences that Park makes rife with valediction.