Today Richard Wagner is best known for his extraordinary operas; any success in other domains was dwarfed by these compositional feats in the world of musical theatre. But Wagner's piano works can be seen to be just as important in understanding the evolution of his style and musical thought, and thus the development of this dominating figure of the 19th century.
The collection brings together Wagner's entire output for solo piano. The earliest sonata on the recording is the Piano Sonata in B flat, which shows evidence of Wagner's music education, with much indebted to the Beethovian model as well as to the great pianist-composers Weber and Pleyel. These influences are heard again in the more mature and complex GroßeRead more Sonate -- a work that Wagner intended to turn into a symphony, though this attempt was later abandoned. A regular dedicatee of Wagner's works was Mathilde Wesendock -- the relationship between the two is still much debated today -- and among the works in this collection, three are dedicated to Mathilde: the 'masterpiece' Eine Sonate für das Album von Frau Mathilde Wesendock, Notenbrief für Mathilde Wesendonck and the 'Schluß zum Vorspiel' from Tristan und Isolde. The 'Tristan chord' at the beginning of the latter has become considered a clear attestation of Wagner's infatuation with Mathilde, for whom he stopped work on the Ring cycle to begin that great testament of love, Tristan und Isolde.
The works are performed by the Italian pianist Pier Paolo Vincenzi, whose busy concert schedule takes him all over his native country. He is joined for the Polonaise for 4 hands in D by Federica Ferrati.
- New recording (2012) by one of Italy's leading pianists, Pier Paolo Vincenzi.
- Amidst the flood of Wagner issues for the 2013 Wagner's Bicentennial this double CD presents an often hidden aspect of opera-composer Wagner: his complete pianistic output.
- Wagner's piano works show his development as a composer during his entire lifespan: from the early Sonata showing influence of Weber and Pleyel, to the "Wagnerian" Grosse Sonate, mature and epic in scope, to later pieces, often written for Mathilde Wesendonck, secretly expressing his love for her. Though not all eternal masterworks, Wagner's piano works show a fascinating aspect of the operatic genius.
- Contains comprehensive notes on the music and an artist biography.
R E V I E W:
WAGNER Eine Sonate für das Album von Frau M.W. “Große Sonata” in A (incl. alternate version of last movement). Piano Sonata in Bb. Schluß zum Vorspiel from Tristan und Isolde. Fantasia in f#. Albumblatt für Ernst Benedikt Kietz, “Lied ohne Worte.” Polonaise in D. In das Album der Fürstin M. Züricher Vielliebchen-Walzer. Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen. Polka in G. Notenbrief für Mathilde Wesendonck. Polonaise for Piano Four-Hands.1,2 Elegy in Ab. Albumblatt für Frau Betty Schott • Dario Bonuccelli (pn); 1Marco Vincenzi (pn) • DYNAMIC 761/1-2 (2 CDs: 143:04)
WAGNEREine Sonate für das Album von Frau M.W. “Große Sonata” in A (incl. alternate version of last movement). Piano Sonata in Bb. Schluß zum Vorspiel from Tristan und Isolde. Fantasia in f#. Albumblatt für Ernst Benedikt Kietz, “Lied ohne Worte.” Polonaise in D. In das Album der Fürstin M. Züricher Vielliebchen-Walzer. Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen. Polka in G. Notenbrief für Mathilde Wesendonck. Polonaise for Piano Four-Hands.1,2 Elegy in Ab. Albumblatt für Frau Betty Schott • Pier Paolo Vincenzi (pn); 2Federica Ferrati (pn) • BRILLIANT 94450 (2 CDs: 145:49)
Here in the Wagner bicentennial year, we get not one but two complete recordings of the composer’s piano music: three sonatas, two formal and one a single-movement work, plus a number of shorter pieces. The question, as always, is this: Is the music good enough to warrant its being issued complete, not once but twice? Wagner collectors will, of course, want every note he composed, but the rest of us can let the weak and uninteresting music go.
It may surprise you to discover, as I did, that most of this music is quite good, even the short pieces—or, as the liner notes for the Bonuccelli disc insist, particularly the short pieces, as they explore the workings of his music mind “at play,” so to speak, during a time when he was constructing his huge operatic fantasies. Yet I was also quite impressed by the sonatas, particularly the “Grosse Sonata” in A (op. 4 or WWV 26) with and without its 40-bar fugue inserted in the last movement, as well as the later Sonata for the Album of Frau M.W. (I’ll give you two guesses who Frau M.W. is, and the first one doesn’t count). Both booklets insist that Beethoven is the model for the op. 4 sonata, and I can definitely hear that (particularly in the long, elegiac, and quite moving Adagio molto), but in the first movement I heard almost as much Chopin, or at least structures built more around mood and melodic structure than the kind of rhythmic inventiveness that LvB generally indulged in.
The liner notes for Vincenzi’s set describe the op. 1 sonata in Bb as “a somewhat naive and redundant work,” yet it impressed Breitkopf & Härtel well enough to have it published. Here the models of early Beethoven and even Mozart are quite clear. The note of Bonuccelli’s CD claims that “it never achieves the brilliance and gentle, elegant irony of its models,” but I disagree. This sounds exactly like a “missing” early Beethoven sonata; it is superbly crafted, witty and containing much of the same dynamic extremes (suddenly changing, for instance, from a Piano to a Forte in the blink of an eye) without copying a note of LvB’s work. (I’ll bet you that, had it not been recorded, some pianist could slip it into a recital of early Beethoven sonatas as a “newly discovered work” and fool more than half the audience.) Although the same liner notes praise the piano version of the last section of the Tristan und Isolde Prelude, I personally found it merely a good reduction of the orchestral score. As a piano work, it is nice but not essential Wagner; yet the Fantasia in F#-Minor is a very imaginative piece, to some extent based on Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy,” but in form only: In content, Wagner is very much his own man, for instance in the rapid but sinister-sounding 6/8 melody in D Minor. I also liked most of the shorter works (on CD 2 of the Vincenzi set and CD 1 of the Bonuccelli set), particularly Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen and In das Album der Fürstin Metternich.
Now we come to the quality of performances in these competing sets. Despite the fact that Bonuccelli’s tempos are consistently slower than Vincenzi’s, even in the shortest pieces, I really thought that it would be difficult to decide between them, but as it turned out it wasn’t even close. Bonuccelli’s performances, though recorded in a warmer acoustic with great presence for the piano, are consistently flat-footed, lethargic, and dull, although I am sure that Wagner lovers who think that sluggish tempos equate to great mystery and “spirituality” in the music will like them. I didn’t. In every single instance, my ears told me that Bonuccelli’s playing sounded like a practice session while Vincenzi’s sounded like polished, finished interpretations. Mind you, Vincenzi doesn’t race through this music like a speed demon—his pacing and phrasing are always intelligent and have breath as well as breadth—but he makes the music sing, he binds phrases intelligently, and in doing so he gives shape and direction to all of these pieces. Bonuccelli is, quite simply, not in the same league. The notes for his CD tell us that Bonuccelli “holds M.A. and Ph.D. [degrees] in Classics and graduated in organ and composition.” My theory—and it is only that—is that Bonuccelli approaches the piano like an organ, which is a mistake, just as Glenn Gould discovered when he went in the opposite direction to record some of Bach’s fugues. The piano requires a crisper attack, more rhythmic (or percussive, if you will) phrasing, and one must create color on the piano whereas an organ provides it in its many stops. Thus I am not criticizing Bonuccelli as a musician, merely as an executant on the piano. Vincenzi, by contrast, has the kind of sparkling, clear Italian touch one often associates with Benedetti, Michelangeli, or, more recently, Luisi. His playing alternates between seriousness and sensuality, drama and joy, and the listener is with him every step of the way.
In general, listeners may be surprised to hear Wagner composing (for the most part) “normal” music of good quality—some of it (like the Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen) sounding not merely Chopinesque but almost Fauré-like. It’s like opening a box marked “Heavy Music Dramas” and discovering gentle breezes that waft through the mind. Vincenzi’s performances are the recommended ones.
Wagner no composer for the pianoMarch 11, 2014By R. Hirst (Salina, KS)See All My Reviews"Wagner said that he played the piano badly. I think he wrote what he could play and on the basis of this recording he was a rank amateur. One of the early sonatas shows that he understood sonata-allegro form, but that movement just peters out in a comical way. It would be much better without the last several measures. Do not waste your time. You could be listening to something from his operas."Report Abuse
Rounds out Wagner, but . . .March 11, 2014By Louis R. (DeLand, FL)See All My Reviews"OK for filler behind another activity, but don't look for pleasant surprises here. Rather uninteresting music. This is apparently why Wagner is not known for his piano works. Not a bad buy, though."Report Abuse
Very interesting Wagner!October 16, 2013By Gail M. (Goleta, CA)See All My Reviews"This is a beautifully played and recorded disk of music I'd never heard about before. Wagner's piano music, including the sonatas, is very good music. To my ear his themes sometimes sound a bit like the orchestral music this composer is well known for. Clearly this is highly recommendable; it's one of the most enjoyable piano recordings I have purchased in quite a while."Report Abuse