Piano Music by Teresa Carreño
with Alexandra Oehler

Media Review / Listening Diary 2014-08-07


2014-08-07 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-11-12 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-22 — Brushed up for better readability

Carreño: Piano works — Oehler; CD coverTeresa Carreño: Piano Works

Alexandra Oehler

Ars Musici, AM 1258-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1999
Booklet: 24 pp. d/e/f
Carreño: Piano works — Oehler; CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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The Pianist

Teresa Carreño (1853 – 1917) was born in Caracas / Venezuela and was one of the most prominent pianists of her time. She met Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921), Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886; he wanted to take her to Rome in order to be able to promote her talents), Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868; he told her to become a singer), Anton Rubinstein (1829 – 1894; her teacher in London), Edward A. MacDowell (1860 – 1908; she was his teacher), Eugen d’Albert (1864 – 1932; her third husband), and many others.

Max Reger (1873 – 1916) felt that she was best of all pianists (around 1890); the text seems to indicate that he compared her to both male and female pianists. Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907) claimed that only she made him realize how beautiful his piano concert is. She also impressed Hans von Bülow (1830 – 1894) with her pianistic talent and abilities.

 

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The Composer

Teresa Carreño was also a composer. My impression is that — with some exceptions — she mostly did not compose for the big public, nor did she want to compete with the great composers of her time (such as Max Reger and others). She expressed her personal feelings, “digested” events in her life. As the authors of the liner notes (Christian Bauer and Alexandra Oehler) wrote, people may see some of her music as being close to salon music. Nevertheless, there are compositions that not only exhibit substantial complexity and are demanding on the performer, but are also substantial in their musical and emotional content.

Her oeuvre includes “at least 40 works for piano, 2 for voice and piano, 2 for choir and orchestra” (taken from Wikipedia). The piano compositions are mostly small works, typically character pieces with a single movement. More details life and career can be found on a blog page dedicated to Teresa Carreño (Spanish). While Teresa Carreño has made a couple of recordings on the Welte-Mignon mechanical recording piano, as a composer she is almost completely absent from the music scene today.

Alexandra Oehler

That’s where Alexandra Oehler comes to the rescue: she was born in the former GDR and had her first piano lessons at the age of 5, then attended music schools in Zeitz and Halle (Saxony-Anhalt), and she completed her musical education in Leipzig (Saxony). She is since pursuing a career as concert pianist, while also teaching at the Thomanerschule in Leipzig. She is also professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy” in Leipzig, and as of 2012 she is directing the Pianistenschule für Kinder und Jugendliche (pianists’ school for children and youth) in the same city.

As a recording artist, she has put considerable focus and effort into re-discovering and recording works by forgotten or neglected composers, such as Teresa Carreño, Joseph Martin Kraus (1756 – 1792), Edward Alexander MacDowell (1860 – 1908), Eugen d’Albert (1864 – 1932), Ferdinand Ries (1784 – 1838), Ignaz Brüll (1846 – 1907), Fritz von Bose (1865 – 1945), or Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896). The above CD is a nice example of such a re-discovery:

A Track Listing

Alexandra Oehler has recorded 13 tracks with 60.5 minutes of music by Teresa Carreño:

  • Valse “Corbeille de fleurs”, op.9 (8’02”)
  • Ballade, op.15 (7’42”)
  • Première élégie, “Plainte”, op.17 (4’54”)
  • Deuxième élégie, “Partie”, op.18 (5’46”)
  • Méditation “Un Rêve de mer”, op.28 (6’17”)
  • Mazurka de Salon, op.30 (3’40”)
  • Deux Esquisses Italiennes, op.33:
    1. Venise (2’50”)
    2. Forence (2’40”)
  • Intermezzo Scherzoso, op.34 (2’31”)
  • Berceuse “Le Sommeil de l’enfant”, op.35 (4’52”)
  • Souvenir de l’Escosse “Highland”, op.38 (3’12”)
  • Fantaisie-Valse “La Fausse Note”, op.39 (4’24”)
  • Petite Valse “Teresita”, o.op. (3’39”)

With the possible exception of the last piece (without opus number), the pieces are arranged in chronological order, i.e., according to their opus number. This allows for the listener to experience the evolution of Teresa Carreño as a composer.

Exploring the Music

In various ways, these pieces cover quite a spread, pianistically, in terms of style, complexity, mood, and (in my opinion) also in compositorial quality:

  • The Valse “Corbeille de fleurs” (basket of flowers), op.9 starts silently, with a slow introduction, leading into a waltz that could almost be by Chopin — at least up to modulations in the second half which are clearly “post-Chopin”. It’s a very nice piece, partly quite virtuosic, definitely entertaining, never boring;
  • To me, the Ballade op.15 is the clear highlight of this CD. It’s an excellent, brilliant composition, complex, with a dense, multi-layered and virtuosic texture (reminds me of compositions by Alkan, if not Godowski!): very demanding on the pianist, excellent music, dramatic and expressive (also demonstrating Teresa Carreño’s abilities) — I really like this!
  • The two Elégies op.17 and op.18 mark the beginning of a new period: from here on, the pieces are less extroverted, more meant to express the composer’s state of mind. In this case, this involves the loss of a close friend of the family. The first Elégie “Plainte” (lamentation) is much simpler in its texture than the previous two pieces, expressive, pensive, sometimes hesitant. Still, it’s a nice composition. The second Elégie “Partie” to me is the richer of the two compositions: well balanced, again expressive, covering a wider range of emotions than op.17. It’s also more complex in its texture. For me, this comes right after the Ballade op.15 as a listening experience: a very nice piece!

Before Teresa Carreño wrote the next piece, the divorce from Eugen d’Albert threw her into a major crisis. After this, she re-emerged with a different style as a composer, often more introverted, calmer:

Consequences of a Divorce

  • The Méditation “Un Rêve de mer”, op.28, depicts the waves rolling in on a beach, but also has pensive, meditative moments. Another nice and interesting piece in this collection!
  • The Mazurka de Salon, op.30, to me is one of the weaker compositions on this CD. Yes, already the title indicates salon music, or is the title actually invoking some prejudice on the part of the listener? It’s not bad, but rather simple in its melodic and harmonic structure, with some moments that almost sound cheap.
  • The Deux Esquisses Italiennes, op.33, as well as the subsequent Intermezzo Scherzoso, op.34, are all short pieces, but definitely richer in texture and harmonic / melodic language. Really short, but pleasant and entertaining character pieces, and definitely not salon music! The second Esquisse, “Florence”, appears to be based on popular melodies (or at least it reminds of popular Italian “hits” of the time).
  • The Berceuse “Le Sommeil de l’enfant”(“The child’s sleep”), op.35, is another highlight in this collection. A very nice, intimate, mostly meditative piece that she dedicated to her father. It could almost be out of Schumann’s “Kinderszenen”, op.15!
  • The Souvenir de l’Escosse “Highland” (Souvenir from Scotland), op.38, is another piece that to me is less rewarding than most others. Simpler in structure and musical content, with a potential of turning into an “ear worm”.
  • The Fantaisie-Valse “La Fausse Note” (The false note), op.39, is a pleasant waltz with scherzo character and some little surprises in the form of unexpected modulation. The title refers to the arpeggiated half-tone interval at the beginning of the main theme.

… and the most popular piece,

  • Finally, the Petite Valse (little waltz) “Teresita” (without opus number) apparently was Teresa Carreño’s most popular piece, which she was asked to give as an encore in just about every concert. Strangely, this is again one of the weaker pieces. In some ways (to me) close to Paderewski’s famous “Minuet in G” (also a piece that to me doesn’t offer much in terms of musical content). Carreño’s waltz’s still pleasant, though.

Conclusion

Not all compositions on this CD match the level of those of the prominent composers of Carreño’s time (which she was performing in her concerts). However, I still think that reviving these pieces in a recording was very much worth the effort! In my personal judgement (I don’t have a recording to compare this with), Alexandra Oehler‘s interpretation and performance are impeccable, excellent. The selection of pieces gives a good impression on Carreño’s compositorial oeuvre. Thank you, Alexandra, for rediscovering this composer for us! On Alexandra Oehler‘s Web site you will also find a newer recording with compositions by Teresa Carreño (which I haven’t reviewed so far).


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