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Schulhoff: Bohemian Show Pieces

Schulhoff / Ruiz
Release Date: 03/26/2012 
Label:  Genesis Records   Catalog #: 119   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RAFF Suite in d. Piano Sonata in e? (2nd version) Adrian Ruiz (pn) GENESIS 118 (67:45)

J. SCHULHOFF Piano Sonata in f. Caprice sur des Airs bohémiens . Etudes, op. 13/1, 3, 8–10, 12. Impromptû-Polka. Chant du Berger. Galop di Read more bravura . Polonaise in E?. Romance in D?. Mazurka in A?. Cantabile in G?. Elegy. Romanza in A?. Berceuse Adrian Ruiz (pn) GENESIS 119 (73:19)

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t tether together two such seemingly unrelated CDs in a double-header review, but I’ve made an exception here for a couple of reasons. First, both discs arrived in a single mailer as a kind of package deal featuring Los Angeles native pianist Adrian Ruiz, and both albums appear to be reissues of material recorded some time ago—in the case of the Raff, a very long time ago, 1971 to be exact, which means it could only have appeared originally on LP. The Schulhoff dates from 1982, so technically, it could have been made for CD, but I suspect that it, too, saw initial release on vinyl. These 2012 digital transfers, however, are the first appearance of these 30- and 40-year-old recordings on silver discs.

Second, the repertoire on these two CDs is not as unrelated as it might seem at first sight, for the Schulhoff here is not the Erwin Schulhoff whose music was labeled entartete by the Nazis and who died in the Würzburg Concentration Camp in 1942. No, this Schulhoff is Julius (1825–1898), great uncle of Erwin, a virtuoso pianist of great acclaim during his lifetime, and, frankly, a composer I’d never heard of before now; apparently, neither has the Fanfare Archive, unless he’s accidentally mixed in among the listings for Erwin Schulhoff. To the extent that other recordings of Julius’s music may exist, they must be very rare, for in my research I came across not one, but on a Naxos Historical CD (8.112054), in its Legends of the Piano series, I found a recording of the third movement from Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, arranged for piano by Julius Schulhoff.

That Joachim Raff (1822–82) was roughly contemporaneous to Schulhoff and an accomplished pianist in his own right, though not one of the 19th century’s heavyweight virtuoso performers, lends further rationality to treating these two releases together. Raff, of course, was the much more rounded and prolific composer, and thus the better known for it, writing symphonies, concertos, chamber, and orchestral music in copious amounts, and an opera, not to mention assisting Liszt with orchestrating some of his tone poems. So, while finding no other listings for Schulhoff shouldn’t have been too surprising, it did surprise me to find no other currently available recordings of either of these Raff pieces.

The Grand Sonate in E?-Minor is grand indeed, but no more so than the D-Minor Suite, which in its four movements embraces fantasy and fugue, recitative and aria, and theme and variations. And that only touches on form. Stylistically, the suite sweeps through Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Liszt on its way to a mighty marathon march that sounds as frightfully difficult as anything Liszt ever wrote. The sonata is no breeze, either. Raff is known to have virtually rewritten the entire piece in 1875 from an earlier version, and Ruiz here plays it in its final reworking.

Notwithstanding the apparent absence of the two Raff works from the current listings, except for the present Ruiz entry, Raff is in no danger of extinction; other of his works are well represented on disc. It’s Schulhoff we should worry about, for hearing this recording was a real discovery for me. Unquestionably, much of this music is strongly influenced by Chopin, who was a mentor to the young pianist, encouraging him to pursue a stage career. But Schulhoff’s harmonic language is of a later period, and his keyboard figurations are different enough from Chopin’s that you wouldn’t confuse the two composers. Every now and then, there are flashes of Schumann, Liszt, and Alkan, whose music and playing Schulhoff is likely to have encountered upon settling in Paris.

This is romantic virtuoso piano music guaranteed to enthrall you with its dazzling displays of pianistic fireworks, but equally guaranteed to captivate and enchant you with its melodic and harmonic beauties. It defies reason that Schulhoff has apparently found only one advocate in pianist Adrian Ruiz and on only one recording made 30 years ago. Granted, not every one of these works is a masterpiece. Some, like the Caprice sur des Airs bohémiens , don’t rise above the level of run-of-the-mill salon music, while the Galop di bravura sounds like circus music. But other numbers, like the very Chopinesque Chant du Berger , make a more serious impression. And Schulhoff proves he can give Chopin a run for his money when it comes to writing a polonaise and a mazurka.

Adrian Ruiz is a former student of Rudolf Serkin and Mieczys?aw Horszowski, among others, and he holds degrees from the Curtis Institute and the University of Southern California. His discography is not large, but what it may lack in quantity it makes up for in quality. On record, at least, Ruiz has applied his consummate technical skill and musical talent to the works of the great 19th-century virtuoso pianists, and his efforts have been acknowledged on more than one occasion in these pages. In Fanfare 33:5, I urgently recommended Ruiz’s two-disc Genesis set of piano works by Ferdinand Hiller, and I would recommend both the Schulhoff and Raff discs to you with equal urgency before they disappear for another 30 and 40 years, respectively.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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