Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
A very listenable recital of romantic piano music.
Claudius Tanski gives us a very listenable recital of romantic piano music here, with several conceptual thoughts welding the pieces together. One overarching theme is the idea of song. The disc takes its title, On Wings of Song, from a Mendelssohn song arranged for solo piano by Franz Liszt. It combines the grace of melody with an ecstatic sense of transcendence, elements which Tanski provides, while reserving his fireworks for later in the program. The recorded sound is quite ideal for this work, if arguably a little too rich for some of the wilder moments to come in
later pieces. The MDG program booklet gives lots of detail about the recording, down to the piano tuner, yet neglects to mention exactly where it was recorded. Whether it is the overtone richness of Tanski’s 1901 Steinway or the nature of the recording hall, or some combination of the two, I don’t know, but the seductive richness of sound here can turn muddy in fast and furious passages.
The first such passages appear in Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, which start plainly enough, but put some romantic ideas through some rigorously classical and even neo-baroque workouts. Tanski’s technique is impressive as he propels forward with great flair and daring, pushing it to the edge without ever toppling over into lumpy or uneven phrasing. But for all its flair, those passages have a bit of a tendency to blur and clump, even in the multichannel SACD layer of this hybrid disc. But the sound is lovely, the antique Steinway combining the traditional creaminess of Steinway tone with something airy, more akin to a Baldwin, though not so starchy as a Bösendorfer. The high-resolution recording picks up on the ringing of overtones, including the subtle way they begin to pull out of tune, which suggests that the piano tuner credited in the booklet may have had his hands full with this old but lovely instrument. Many listeners won’t be able to hear that, anyway, as it is roughly the aural equivalent of all the subtle flavors of wine, which any oenophile can tell you takes years to develop. Suffice it to say that only the fussiest of listeners will be bothered by intonation problems here; I’ve heard worse intonation on pianos used in recordings by Evgeny Kissin and Zoltan Kocsis, among others.
Schumann’s Fantasie, Op. 17 relates to this program both in singing spirit and in the literal fact that it was dedicated by Schumann to Liszt. Tanski’s Fantasie works beautifully as anchor of the overall program here, even if it won’t supplant long-time legendary recordings such as the fresh and ardent singing of Murray Perahia (CBS, later Sony) nor the icy fire of Maurizio Pollini (Deutsche Grammophon). Perhaps a few comparisons with some other enterprising, lesser-known recordings might prove instructive.
Tanski is propulsive in the opening torrents of Schumann’s Fantasie. Indeed, torrents is the only apt way to describe Tanski’s effusion, similar in swirling pace to the old-fashioned romantic flair of Earl Wild’s 1990 recording (Ivory Classics 71001), but with a more demonic edge. The downside of this is that the rich reverberation of Tanski’s venue, along with the overtone-laden voice of his 1901 Steinway makes this torrent somewhat muddy. For a less hectic approach, one might turn to Alicia de Larrocha (RCA 09026-68657-2, now OOP), though she can seem a trifle earthbound in the first movement. Burkard Schliessmann’s 1999 recording (Bayer BR 100 293 CD) combines a judicious amount of flair with real passion, without ever losing the through line of the movement, possibly Schumann’s greatest extended structure. Schliessmann balances that structure with great skill, drawing attention in his own program notes to Schumann’s prominent use of “the Tristan chord” in the first movement, quite a few years before Wagner supposedly discovered it.
In the second movement march, Tanski is engagingly lively, without going as far towards perkiness as Wild. Again de Larrocha and Schliessmann are a touch more measured here, keeping their piano sound from turning hectic as the music exults, with Schliessmann pointing up the eccentric element more than de Larrocha. In the final movement of the Fantasie, Tanski and Wild part ways, with Tanski going for a possibly too easily flowing 9:00 timing, while Wild broadens it out to nearly two minutes slower. This is the movement where de Larrocha is at her finest, bringing a singing line to the music like few others. Schliessmann unfolds at a similar tempo to de Larrocha, with sufficient singing, though he perhaps spends more effort tending to the interplay of counterpoint between the interwoven melody and accompaniment. If that yields a somewhat richer complexity of emotion, it doesn’t supplant the irresistible singing of de Larrocha’s vision.
Next we hear from Liszt himself, via his own solo piano arrangement of his song Die Loreley. The work builds to a fearsome peak, and Tanski pushes it, hanging onto a massive thunderhead of piano sound with the sustain pedal before releasing it into silence. The cursed love of the Lorelei goes hand in hand with the Schumann, written as that composer despaired of ever getting to marry his beloved Clara Wieck, and with the Mahler transcription, inspired by an unsuccessful love affair.
The Mahler songs, originally for voice and orchestra, are more successful in this form than I thought they’d be. Tanski has transcribed them here for solo piano, and he does a remarkable job covering all the notes, which are by no means idiomatically pianistic, as Mahler was very successful at thinking orchestrally. Interestingly, Tanski makes no attempt to reinvent them pianistically by adding any figurations to slower or sustained notes, nor does he speed through any of the sparser sections. Indeed, if anything, his version is broader than a typical orchestral performance. That allows him to cover all the notes, though a little more propulsion wouldn’t have been amiss in places, such as the second song, “Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld,” which comes across here in an unusually autumnal manner. The least effective part of these transcriptions is the unavoidable use of tremolo notes to approximate drum rolls and tremolo strings. Tremolo on the piano just doesn’t sound very good, and there’s no getting around that. But the good thing is that these transcriptions give a chance to clearly hear the harmonic bones of complex passages, which tend to get lost in orchestral performances. For instance, the climax of the third song, “Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer,” is revealed here to be a harmonic chain that builds up until collapsing under its own weight. In addition to his own enjoyment of Mahler, Tanski cites the old, much debated intertwining of Jewish and German culture as a reason for drawing this music into this particular program. Indeed, that angle is intriguing, for not only does Mahler represent that process, he is quite inescapably a cultural descendant of Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt, ones who aren’t acknowledged as frequently in Mahler’s backgrounds as Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. Smart programming, indeed.
The regular CD layer of this hybrid disc has quite nice sound, and the SACD multichannel layer provides a lot of hall sound to go with it. Altogether, it makes for a very listenable program that illustrates a number of interesting ideas. As always, MDG recommends a 2 + 2 + 2 layout of surround sound speakers, as opposed to the more standard 5 + 1 arrangement. It would be interesting to hear the disc in their suggested layout, which they say further enhances the sense of vertical space, as that indeed might correct the slight tendency toward muddiness in loud, fast passages. But, then again, I’m not going to rearrange my speakers every time I put an MDG disc on the player.
-- Mark Sebastian Jordan, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler
Claudius Tanski (Piano)
Written: 1883-1896; Germany
Length: 17 Minutes 10 Secs.
Notes: Arranger: Claudius Tanski.
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