The Welte Mignon Mystery Vol. XIV: Opera Composers = Sel. of D'ALBERT, LEONCAVALLO, HUMPERDINCK, SCHILLINGS, ZOELLNER – Tacet

by | Jan 21, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

The Welte Mignon Mystery Vol. XIV: Opera Composers = D’ALBERT: Flauto Solo: Lustspiel-Potpourri; Scherzo in F-sharp Major; excerpts from Tiefland; LEONCAVALLO: Intermezzo from Der Bajazzo; Prelude, Act I from Die Medici; Valse de Musette from La Boheme; Romance in A Minor; Au bord du lac in F Major; Flirt-Waltzer; HUMPERDINCK: Dream-Scene from Hansel and Gretel; Menuet from Die Heirat wider Willen; Die Koenigskinder: Rosenringel; SCHILLINGS: Prelude, Act III from Der Pfeifertag; Das Hexenlied; ZOELLNER: Rautendeleins Lied from Die versunkene Glocke; HUMPERDINCK: Wiegenlied in F Major (played by M. Brockhaus)
Tacet 178, 74:28 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Another in the series of re-mastered perforated strips mechanically connected (the most accurate and sophisticated of the player piano technologies) to the modern Steinway reproducing the original fingerings of historical artists inscribed 1905-1913, this edition brings us the work of operatic composers known for their efforts between Italy and Bayreuth.
Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932) had an outstanding career as concert pianist, called by Liszt “Little Giant” and “Our young lion.” The opening potpourri (rec. 1905) of waltz tunes seems to me innocuous, without musical substance, just pleasant chords and runs mostly in ¾ time. The little Scherzo in F-sharp Major, for all its tango rhythm, sounds more like the pianola accompaniment to a silent movie. The scene from his most famous opera Tiefland in the style of a ballade, has a jaunty quality that signifies its folk basis, but the melodic content remains thin, reminiscent of diluted Grieg.
Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1858-1919) sat at the Welte Mignon studios in 1905.  Known as a great verismo composer, his singular success I Pagliacci immortalizes him. His first piece is in fact the Intermezzo from this wonderful music. The staccati that introduce the Prelude to The Medici enjoy some heraldic moments and kaleidoscopic colors, but the actual opera came to nothing. Leoncavallo’s La Boheme is “the other” take on Puccini’s more successful vision; but the Valse de Musette exhibits an insouciant charm, brief and  glittery.  Romance in A Minor is a natural song, a Mediterranean equivalent of a lyric by Sinding or Grieg. Leoncavallo calls his Au bord du lac a “Reverie,” an obvious allusion to Liszt. Flirt-Waltzer, a passionate waltz, clearly imitates the Vienna style, occasionally in raucous parody.
Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) endures as the most original imitator of Wagner, infusing a lyrical naivety into Wagner’s colossal heaviness. The piano strums the Evening Prayer from Hansel und Gretel, the plaintive chorale then expanding by diaphanous touch into liquid arpeggios. The tiny Minuett resembles the more famous A Major Gavotte of Gluck in the Brahms arrangement. “Rosenringel” simply sets a childlike melody in an accompanied pattern of which Schumann would likely approve.  The Cradle-Song echoes much of Schumann’s Nachtstucke, Op. 23, No. 4.  Max von Schillings (1868-1933), composer of the opera Mona Lisa, was also a mentor to Wilhelm Furtwaengler and an ardent supporter of National Socialism in Germany. His harmonically wayward, clangorous Prelude to Act III to Der Pfeifertag sounds much like Busoni or late Liszt, cross-referenced by the Dies Irae. The Witches’ Song exploits tremolos and arpeggios without significant melodic tissue. Last we have Heinrich Zoellner (1854-1941), composer of The Sunken Bell, after a play by Gerhart Hauptmann. A kind of liquid ostinato infiltrates the plainchant chords that move along conventional scales, hinting in their chromatics at Tristan.  All relatively minor-league music played by some major figures on the modern Steinway D by way of The Welte Mignon magical mystery tour.
–Gary Lemco
[The Welte Mignon “Vorzetzer” used with the rolls has been restored, tuned and adjusted by an expert to operate more perfectly than those used on previous Welte sound recordings, and Tact’s miking is first rate, but some of the selections still sound like piano rolls…Ed.]

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