Gaponenko Pays Homage to Vienna

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HOMMATE À VIENNE / C. SCHUMANN: Scherzo, Op. 10. Romanzen, Op. 11. SCHUBERT: Ungarische Melodie in B min. Impromptu in B. MOSCHELES-HUMMEL-KALKBRENNER-X. MOZART-LISZT-SCHUBERT-UMLAUF: Variations on a Theme of Diabelli. BEETHOVEN: Polonaise in C, Alla Polacca. R. SCHUMANN: Faschingsschwank aus Wien / Elena Gaponenko, pno / Oehms Classics OC 1707

Elena Gaponenko, the extraordinarily talented pianist/cellist, here displays her keyboard skills in an homage to her adopted city of Vienna—a place where, for centuries, the most high-minded in art music has rubbed elbows with lightweight musical fluff. Gaponenko focuses her skills on the lightweight music of the city in this release.

Up first is Clara Wieck Schumann in a couple of pieces that she wrote before she married Robert. I’ve mentioned several times before that I’m not a Clara Schumann fan. I find her music generally light in character and, though skillfully put together, not particularly interesting, but in this case it is a triumph of performance over material. Gaponenko does her level best to make something of the Scherzo, particularly its slow middle section, which she plays with loving care and a superb legato. She also performs miracles with the equally slight Romanzen, giving them the kind of meticulous care that one normally brings to the music of her husband.

The particular Schubert pieces chosen here also fit into the charming-but-lightweight category. yet once again I was struck by Gaponenko’s artistry. She plays these pieces in the old-fashioned way, with subtle but noticeable rubato and a care in phrasing that many modern pianists overlook. The Impromptu is one of Schubert’s better pieces in that vein, fairly lengthy and we;;-developed, and Gaponenko plays it well.

Next we get a real rarity: some of the “Diabelli Variations” that everyone else except Beethoven wrote: Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Hummel, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Xaver Mozart (Wolfgang’s son), Franz Liszt, Schubert and Michael Umlauf. Among the others missing here are Czerny, Moritz, Lannoy, von Mosel and Sechter, but we don’t miss them very much. Gaponenko has a ball with this music, leaning into the waltz’s quirky rhythms to emphasize its klunkiness. Moscheles’ variation is charming but predictable, Hummel more complex in the bass line, Kalkbrenner more dramatic in its gestures, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart (to give him his full name) much more florid and old-fashioned (Gaponenko plays this with a bit of humor), Liszt already sounding like Liszt at eight years old (he transposes it to the minor and fills it with dramatic gestures and plenty of notes), Schubert retains the minor key feel and imparts some genuine feeling to the music. Umlauf wraps things up with a charming and technically adroit variation.

So as not to leave Beethoven out in the cold, we next get his Polonaise in C, Alla Polacca, which begins with an odd, out-of-tempo introduction before we get the strict polonaise tempo. Once again it’s a fairly lightweight piece, also played with charm.

We end up our visit to Vienna with Robert Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien. Clearly the one real masterpiece on this album, it is played with energy and drive, as Schumann usually should be. Indeed, I was fascinated by the way Gaponenko could change her pianistic “profile” to accommodate this piece in an entirely different vein from the rest of the program, proving once more what an interesting interpreter she is.

This, then, is a nice album for relaxed listening (normally not my thing) with a couple of nice surprises.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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