Piano Recital: Werner Bärtschi
Nielsen / Schoeck

Klavierissimo Festival 2022
Aula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 17h30

3.5-star rating

2022-03-23 — Original posting


Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-02-01 17h30 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Werner Bärtschi @ Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-02-01 17h30 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeAula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-24 19:30h
Series / TitleKlavierissimo Festival 2022
OrganizerTop Klassik Zürcher Oberland
Reviews from related eventsReviews from Klavierissimo Festivals: 2018 | 2019 | 2020 (Beethoven) | 2022
Concerts organized by Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland
Piano recitals and chamber music concerts in the Aula of the KZO, Wetzikon ZH
Concerts with Werner Bärtschi

Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26
Werner Bärtschi @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

The Klavierissimo Festival 2022

The Klavierissimo Festival is an annual event that takes place in the main convention hall of the regional high school (KZO, Kantonsschule Zürcher Oberland) in Wetzikon ZH (close to Zurich). For concert reviews from earlier instances of the Festival see the set of links (first line in the “Reviews from related events” box above). The Festival runs over four days. This year, it happened between 2022-02-23 and 2022-03-26. It featured a series of piano recitals, culminating in several events on the last day. I managed to attend five of these recitals:


The Artist

Werner Bärtschi (*1950, see also Wikipedia) is not new to this blog: I have written about several concerts and recitals with this artist (see the links above). Most of these were piano recitals in the context of the Klavierissimo Festival.


Program

The repertoire that Werner Bärtschi presented consisted of rarities, i.e., music that is rarely showing up in concerts / piano recitals. To me, it was the first encounter with all these compositions. I’m therefore deviating from my usual review scheme. With the three (groups of) compositions, my rating primarily describes how attractive / interesting I personally find the compositions. My star rating in the title above indicates how I rate the overall concert experience.


Setting, etc.

The concert venue, a high school convention hall in the form of a semi-circular theater (in a circular building) can hold audiences of up to around 350 people. The Klavierissimo Festival rarely fills it to more than 30 – 40%. I took a seat in the upper third, in the right-hand side block. The acoustics are perfect in that position, the view excellent, especially for taking photos.

The instrument was a Steinway D-274 concert grand in excellent condition, prepared by Bachmann Pianos, Wetzikon.


Concert & Review

Carl Nielsen, 1917
Carl Nielsen, 1917

Nielsen: Piano Music for Young and Old, op.53 (FS 148, CNW 92)

The Composer

Carl August Nielsen (1865 – 1931) wasn’t just Denmark’s most prominent composer—he also was conductor and a violinist. He was the seventh out of 12 children in a poor peasant family on the island of Funen (Fyn). Nielsen produced a rich oeuvre, in which orchestral works (symphonies, concertos), songs and other vocal works, as well as chamber music dominate. Even though he was composing at the piano, Nielsen’s 21 piano works form a minor fraction within that oeuvre. The Carl Nielsen Works (CNW) catalogue lists over 400 compositions.

The Composition

The Piano Music for Young and Old, op.53 (Klavermusik for Smaa og Store, FS 148, CNW 92) is in two volumes of 12 pieces each. Nielsen completed these pieces in 1930, one year before he died. The titles / annotations for the pieces (some as short as 6 bars only) are as follows:

  1. Allegretto (C major)
  2. Allegretto (A minor)
  3. Allegro scherzoso — Grazioso (G major)
  4. Andantino (E minor)
  5. Allegro giocoso (D major)
  6. Poco lamentoso (B minor)
  7. Marziale (A major)
  8. Cantabile (F♯ minor)
  9. Allegretto civettuolo (coquettish, E major)
  10. Lugubre (C♯ minor)
  11. Andantino poco tiepido (rather tepidly, B major)
  12. Adagio drammatico (G♯ minor)
  13. Andantino carino (affectionately, F major)
  14. Capriccioso (D minor)
  15. Adagio espressivo (B♭ major)
  16. Alla Contadino (peasant, G minor))
  17. Largo con fantasia (E♭ major)
  18. Preludio (C minor)
  19. “Alla Bach” (A♭ major)
  20. Con sentimento (F Minor)
  21. Marcia di goffo (clumsy, clodhopper) (D♭ major)
  22. Allegretto pastorale (B♭ minor)
  23. Etude (Allegro) (G♭ major)
  24. Molto adagio (E♭ minor) — Allegretto commodo (E♭ major)

Although not strictly in major / minor keys, the pieces follow the circle of fifths (C – G – D – A – etc.). Each of the pieces is paired with one in the parallel minor key (C major – A minor – G major – E minor, etc.), the first part covers the “sharp” keys, book II the “flat” ones, starting from F major. The pieces are all short (typically less than a minute, between 6 and around 30 bars). Two of the pieces (No.2, No.11) are in AAB form (repeat signs around the first part). No.24 (E♭ minor – E♭ major) is in AAB-CDD form.

Didactic Intent

The score clearly indicates the didactic intent with these 24 pieces. Prior to the initial time signature, each of the pieces has a pair of small notes on either of the two staves, almost always indicating the interval of a fifth. A foot note indicates that this is the position of the two hands. In other words: throughout the 24 pieces, the pianist initially positions his/her hands. For a given piece, all notes for that hand fall into the specified interval, the hand(s) don’t need to move. There is just one exception to this: in the Allegro scherzoso part of No.3, the left-hand range covers a seventh. In No.18, the notation is in a single staff (stave), the fifth ranges are adjacent to each other, but not overlapping.

The Music

Given the above description, I wasn’t surprised to note that already the first piece instantly evoked memories of Les cinq doigts, a collection of eight pieces which Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) wrote in 1921 (whereby in “Les cinq doigts“, the five-note restriction only applies to the right hand).

The five-finger restriction isn’t the only similarity to “Les cinq doigts“. There are also harmonic similarities: the slightly melancholic mood, the avoidance of full cadences (tonic — subdominant — dominant — tonic), the “suspended tonality” through incomplete chords, and the frequent swaying between two keys. Nice, little folk tunes, mostly just two voices—maybe harmless, but nevertheless beautiful in their simplicity.

The “folk tunes” led to another association with a recital that Deszö Ránki (*1951) gave at the Klavierissimo Festival 2019 (2019-02-22). There, we heard excerpts from collections of short pieces by Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945), namely from the 1945 collection “For Children”, Sz.42, BB 53, as well as the 1915 Romanian Christmas Carols, Sz.57, BB 67. There, the similarities are more in the simple structure (both harmonically, as well as in length). Nielsen’s op.53, however, is harmonically and rhythmically simpler, and closer to Stravinsky’s “Les cinq doigts” than to Bartók’s miniatures (the latter are undeniably Hungarian, and rhythmically more intricate).

The Performance

Werner Bärtschi treated these miniatures respectfully. Neither did belittle their value, nor did he try “blowing them up”, i.e., making them bigger / more than they are meant to be. Calm, reflective, considerate, occasionally with a playful note, carefully applying expressive (but never excessive) agogics. A fitting, very atmospheric interpretation!

Rating: ★★★½ (Composition)

Othmar Schoeck
Othmar Schoeck

Schoeck: Two Piano Pieces, op.29

Composer & Work

The Swiss conductor and late-romantic composer Othmar Schoeck (1886 – 1957) is mostly known for the large number of Lieder that he created. His oeuvre also included a few operas, orchestral works, three concertos, and a small number (less than 10) of chamber music works. There are very few piano works—the smallest fraction of his output. One of these are the Two Piano Pieces, op.29 from 1919 (see also the List of Compositions by Othmar Schoeck).

As Werner Bärtschi explained, Schoeck fell in love with the Geneva-based pianist Mary de Senger. She was Schoeck’s muse for a while, and the dedicatee of the two piano pieces op.29. Senger apparently had a profound influence on the style of Schoeck’s compositions. The affair came to an end in 1923. In 1925, Schoeck married the German singer Hilde Bartscher (1898 – 1990).

Information on Mary de Senger is hard to find. Schoeck’s op.29 (and its dedication) gives a scarce (indirect) testimony of her existence. The Two Piano Pieces have the following titles / annotations:

  1. Consolation: Andante
  2. Toccata: Allegro con brioNoch bewegter

Music and Performance

I. Consolation: Andante

An atmospheric “Lied ohne Worte” (Song without words) in typical Schoeck-harmonies, like a long recitativo accompagnato. Lyrical, initially calm, gradually building up to a gentle, briefly intense, expressive climax. An “endless” cantilena, longing, melancholic, only finding peace / resolution in the very last chord.

II. Toccata: Allegro con brioNoch bewegter

The Allegro con brio consists of (almost entirely) a single voice: a virtuosic, restless chain of rapid semiquavers (in 6/8 time) involving both hands, passing by in a flurry. The piece starts in G♭ major/E♭ minor, moves on to C major, A♭ major/F minor, B major, back to G♭ major/E♭ minor, C major, and A♭ major/F minor again. A modulating, playful perpetuum mobile—pianistically demanding, especially in retaining clarity in the rapid figures.

The Noch bewegter (Even more agitated, F minor) part (roughly the last quarter) isn’t just faster, but jazzy, culminating in a fff, schwungvoll, tumultuarisch (buoyant, tumultuous) climax. Schoeck’s attempt to compose Jazz? One may see it as a fun closing. Not a very convincing one, though. One would hope that Mary de Senger didn’t drop the relationship because of this Toccata?

Rating: ★★★½ / ★★½ (Composition)

Carl Nielsen, 1917
Carl Nielsen, 1917

Nielsen: Piano Suite “Den Luciferiske“, op.45 (FS 91, CNW 88)

Composer & Work

Carl Nielsen (1865 – 1931) wrote his Piano Suite “Den Luciferiske“, op.45 (FS 91, CNW 88) 1919 – 1920. The title translates to “The Luciferian“, i.e., a follower of Luciferianism. That is not to be confounded with Satanism. Lucifer translates to “bringer of light” (light-bearer) or “bringer of dawn”, often associated with the morning star, i.e., Venus. There are six movements. However, these are not following (or derived from) the scheme of a baroque suite, not even in the tempo relations:

  1. Allegretto un pochettino
  2. Poco moderato
  3. Molto adagio e patetico
  4. Allegretto innocente
  5. Allegretto vivo
  6. Allegro non troppo ma vigoroso

The Performance

I. Allegretto un pochettino

The first movement opens with a simple motif in the right hand, a descending quaver line, then stepping up in growing intervals. The left hand: a rolling semiquaver line in contrariwise movement. That bass line continues, while the right hand expands to a third parallel, later into alternating intervals. And here it was again, that allusion to Stravinsky’s early piano works, as already in op.53!

In the following part (bar #21), the “narration” resides in the bass, which forms an initially hesitant, erratic recitative, which gradually picks up motion from the descant. The latter appears just as unsettled, complementing the bass “tale” with rapid demisemiquaver, and hemidemisemiquaver figures. A rhythmic maze, culminating in an intricate climax, then “diluting” and calming down, finally returning to the initial theme, with “early Stravinskian” harmonies—or was this rather inspired by Max Reger (1873 – 1916)?

II. Poco moderato

The second movement emerges out of ppp, and in the end it calms down, finally retracts to pppp. A flock in chimes, forming waves of busy, clustered pattern, commented by simple motifs in the outer voices. Very atmospheric!

III. Molto adagio e patetico

With its double-punctuations, this movement seems to allude to a festive, baroque “French overture”. Although, in its harmonies, it is of course closer to Max Reger (or maybe the early Stravinsky?). The following cascades, descending sequences of rapidly alternating motifs also seem close to Reger—a reference to the Stylus fantasticus in early organ works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Actually, the piece felt like an organ work altogether, which somehow got “mis-routed” onto the piano? Definitely an interesting and unique composition!

IV. Allegretto innocente

Indeed: innocent and joyful, serene, lucid, neo-baroque in style and harmonies—beautiful, harmonious!

V. Allegretto vivo

Atmospheric, bright, reminds of piano music by Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) or maybe Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937).

VI. Allegro non troppo ma vigoroso

The longest, and clearly the richest, most multi-faceted of the pieces. A freely preluding “organ fantasy”, alternating between reflection, lingering, or in repetitive, motoric pattern, and grandiose cascades, dense, virtuosic structures, glissandi. Several times, there is a series of repeated quavers on a single tone, which strongly remind of one of Bach’s organ fugue themes (e.g., from Praeludium and Fugue in D minor, BWV 539)—however, there is no fugue, no comes, no fugato, not even canon-like moments. Merely “baroque memories”? That’s not criticism, of course. It’s merely one of many facets in this composition.

Rating: ★★★★ (Composition)

Conclusions

Not all of the compositions in Werner Bärtschi’s program are equally appealing / interesting. Among Carl Nielsen’s two works, the “Piano Music for Young and Old”, op.53 is very pleasing and easier to access than the Suite, op.45. The latter, though, is more demanding on the listener, more complex, and also technically and musically more challenging for the artist. I experienced Othmar Schoeck’s “Two Pieces”, op.29, as rather uneven. Quite attractive and atmospheric the Consolation, while as a composition, the Toccata felt much less successful or convincing.

Thanks to Werner Bärtschi for this interesting recital with a repertoire off the beaten tracks!


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