Notes and Editorial Reviews
Theme and Variations in d.
Piano Sonata in f,
Ian Holtham (pn)
TALL POPPIES 219 (67:40)
Rondo à la Mazurka
some of the genuine curiosities unearthed by music researchers and record companies, it’s hard to know by what definition any of the pieces on this disc may be described, as the album title does, as “rarities.” Brahms’s Theme and Variations in D Minor, a transcription for solo piano of the slow movement of the composer’s op. 18 String Sextet, has more than 15 listed recordings, not counting this one. An equal number of recordings of an unfinished sonata in F Minor by Schubert are also listed. Chopin’s
Rondo à la Mazurka
has 22 listings at ArkivMusic, and the number of sightings of that extremely rare butterfly, Schumann’s
, is at least 56 and counting.
Now that we’ve dispensed with the sales-pitch poppycock of the album’s title, we can get to the business at hand, which is Ian Holtham and his performances of these pieces. In prior reviews, I’ve addressed the Brahms transcription, stating that in my opinion it doesn’t really work very well on piano. The vortexes of swirling winds created by the string instruments as they swell and subside in great crescendos and diminuendos are not easily reproduced by a piano. But what I think doesn’t matter. Clara Schumann, at whose request Brahms made the transcription, liked it, and so did Brahms, who reportedly played it often.
Holtham mentions in his self-authored notes that this is one of the work’s very few recordings. At the time he wrote that, he may or may not have been aware of Garrick Ohlsson’s outstanding performance of the piece in a two-disc Hyperion set of Brahms’s complete variation works for solo piano, recorded in 2009, released in 2010, and reviewed in
The Schubert sonata, as performed here by Holtham, may indeed be a rarity, if only because he has made his own further harmonic modifications and alterations to the 1953 Universal Edition completion by Erwin Ratz. The score, as Schubert left it, is actually more complete than a lot of his other unfinished works and fragments. Mostly in question is the absentee slow movement. Schubert apparently composed one but withdrew it at the request of his publisher. The movement, in D?-Major, was published separately as a stand-alone piece. Bearing the Deutsch number 505, it is sometimes re-introduced into performances of the sonata as the originally intended slow movement. Holtham plays only the three official movements of the piece, but, as noted, adds some of his own contributions to Ratz’s published edition.
Rondo à la Mazurka
was written in 1810 by a 16-year-old Chopin. Nowhere near as rare as Holtham’s program note would have us believe, the piece can be heard in complete Chopin cycles by Ashkenazy, Hobson, Ohlsson, and Barbosa.
Holtham is also not correct in stating that
“is amongst the most rarely performed of Schumann’s piano music.” Perhaps it’s just a difference between Holtham’s Australian English usage of the word “rare” and my American English understanding of it, but if I can put words in Holtham’s mouth, I think what he really means is that
is not performed as often as some of Schumann’s other piano works. But not as often doesn’t make it rare, as well over 50 recordings attest.
Ian Holtham is one of Australia’s leading and most distinguished pianists, and though we don’t seem to hear much about or from him in the U.S., he has built up an impressive discography of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky on Australia’s ABC Classics and Move labels. The Tall Poppies CD at hand showcases Holtham in a program of works that are core to his repertoire; while none of them are rare, what is exceptional is the beauty of tone, sensitivity of expression, and perfection of technique with which Holtham plays them. A mixed bouquet of lovely Romantic era pieces easily recommended to all.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Davidsbündlertänze for Piano, Op. 6 by Robert Schumann
Ian Holtham (Piano)
Written: 1837; Germany
Venue: Melba Hall, University of Melbourne
Length: 29 Minutes 32 Secs.
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