Magazine article Gramophone

Toccata Classics: Jeremy Nicholas Listens to a Handful of Discs from the Label Which Specialises in Music That Lies Away from the Beaten Track

Magazine article Gramophone

Toccata Classics: Jeremy Nicholas Listens to a Handful of Discs from the Label Which Specialises in Music That Lies Away from the Beaten Track

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

William Hurlstone died in 1906 at the tragically early age of 30 but left behind a substantial body of work. Australian pianist Kenji Fujimura has a PhD on the subject and, while I usually run a mile if I see an artist billed as 'Prof or 'Dr', in this case scholarship and musicianship are on a par. Most of the music here is early and slight; some is unexpected (an arrangement of Stephen Heller's Tarantelle for the left hand). Two pieces are outstanding: Lisztians will recognise the theme of Hurlstone's Hungarian Air with Variations from its use in the second (C sharp major) section of the Hungarian Rhapsody No 6; the 11 brief and highly contrasted variations, more englisch than ungarische, would make a delightful sequence in any recital. From three years earlier, the unpublished Piano Sonata in F minor (1894)--the only work on the disc to have previously been recorded (Mark Bebbington--Somm, 10/10)--is a remarkable creation for an 18-year-old. If Hurlstone's warmly lyrical, virtuoso Piano Concerto appeals (Eric Parkin from the late 1970s--Lyrita, 2/80, 1/08) then you'll enjoy the Sonata.

Adolf Jensen (1837-79) is another second-division composer who died young but whose music is much better than his current presence on disc and in the concert hall would indicate. His seven-movement suite Erotikon, Op 44 (24'06") from 1873, brim full of charming ideas and not a few demanding pages, might be described as high-end salon music beholden to Schumann (of whom Jensen was a devoted admirer), Chopin and Liszt. His Deutsche Suite, Op 36, is an affectionate pastiche of Baroque dance movements ending with a neatly turned fugal Gigue. Jensen was highly regarded as a song-writer. Three of more than 160 he composed sufficiently impressed Max Reger to transcribe them. These make up a thoroughly enjoyable programme, rather closely recorded but played most appealingly by the Norwegian pianist Erling R Eriksen.

Toccata doesn't espouse a standard label sound--even sometimes on a single disc: listen to the Sonata rustica and Five Impromptus which open and close Vol 1 of the piano music of Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986), where the sound is less focused and ingratiating than on other tracks. Tansman was a miniaturist at heart (of the 33 tracks, none lasts over six minutes, the shortest a fleeting 50 seconds) and wrote in an eclectic style. Danny Zelibor, in his excellent booklet deftly characterising each piece, for instance describes the harmonies of the Sept Preludes (1921) as 'at one turn just shy of a Gershwin song or Scriabin prelude, and at the next [becoming] dense stacks of sound that climb up three staves'. …

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