As the piano came into its own in the mid-19th century, the Vienna-born/French-based Henri Herz (1803-1888) all but dominated the scene as a brilliant virtuoso, popular teacher, and best-selling composer. Listening to this first CD entirely devoted to his solo piano works, you can understand Herz's one-time appeal, as well as why his music predeceased him. As the Op. 81 variations, the nocturnes, and the ballades demonstrate, Herz was a charming yet unmemorable melodist, whose intricate yet harmonically bland keyboard textures go in one ear and out the other. Flashy devices such as tremolos and repeated notes (Herz adored repeated notes) tend to wear out their welcome long after they've made their virtuosic point. You sense this in longRead more stretches of the Fantasie dramatique (based upon "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God") and in Op. 158's "Yankee Doodle" section. And Le mouvement perpetual owes its existence to Weber's earlier and far more concise rondo finale from the Piano Sonata No. 1.
Herz may not be a great composer, yet his stuff certainly is fun to digest in small doses, especially when you consider Philip Martin's appropriately light and colorful touch, supple finger work, and marvelous sense of dramatic timing. Jeremy Nicholas' fair-minded and informative notes discuss each work in the context of its time. Collectors who dote on the rare Romantics need no prodding to acquire this excellently engineered release.