A new recording on the independent Australian label, Tall Poppies, showcasing transcriptions for violin and piano, is cleverly and most appropriately named “In Other Words“. Both violinist, Anna McMichael, and pianist, Daniel de Borah, are well-known and well-credentialled Australian musicians.
This set of transcriptions is unique in that not only did the four composers featured on the disc, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, and Stravinsky, transcribe their own works (with one small exception) but they did so for the less common combination of violin and piano. Liszt was the most famous of the four for his many piano transcriptions which enabled him to display his virtuosic piano-playing throughout his life. Personally, I have always found transcriptions fascinating in that they offer a whole new sound world and, not uncommonly, introduce listeners to less famous but nonetheless compelling works.
The works were reworkings of music from different sources, including ballet, opera, and songs, composed as homage to another composer or fellow musician, and produced for career pursuit and/or financial reasons.
The disc starts and ends with dance music composed by Stravinsky. The first piece, Gavotte and two Variations from “After themes, fragments and pieces by Pergolesi“, begins most elegantly as a stately eighteenth-century French dance which immediately displays the eloquence of McMichael’s playing and de Borah’s delicate accompaniment. Its five movements are based on fragments of Pergolesi’s music which was used by Stravinsky in his ballet, Pulcinella. The final piece, the famous Danse Russe from the ballet, Petrouchka, was originally rearranged for solo piano, specifically Arthur Rubinstein, then later rearranged for violin and piano so that Stravinsky could go on a concert tour with the Polish-American violinist, Samuel Dushkin in 1932-34.
The two Liszt works, Romance Oubliee (Forgotten Romance) S132b and Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Cloisters on Nonnenwerth) S382, were originally songs which were later transcribed for violin and piano. Unsurprisingly, Liszt also arranged both works for solo piano, as well as other combinations. The Romance has a beautiful longing attached, enhanced by de Borah’s touch, while Nonnenwerth, an island in the Rhine river where Liszt holidayed with Countess d’Agoult and their children during the summers of 1841-43 before the family separated, presents a reflective melancholic mood.
The solo part of Schumann’s Three Phantasiestuecke (Three Fantasy Pieces) Op 73 was originally written for clarinet but the printed edition actually included parts for violin and cello as well. Schumann’s wife, Clara, actually premiered the work with Dresden clarinettist, Johann Gottlieb Kotte. The first of the three pieces is expressive, the second light and playful, and the third full of vigour.
Vogel als Prophet (Bird as Prophet), the seventh of the set of nine solo piano pieces, Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), composed by Schumann, was arranged by Leopold Auer, a famous violinist and teacher.
The most substantial work on the disc is Brahms’ well-known Violin Sonata in E-flat Op 120 No 2. It was originally composed for clarinet or viola and piano in 1894, then rearranged for violin and piano a year later. It seems Brahms himself played the piano with clarinettist, Richard Muehlfeld, and violinist, Marie Soldat, on many occasions. The work is portrayed delightfully by McMichael and de Borah, beautifully phrased with lovely changes of dynamics and tempo.
The penultimate piece is a rearrangement of Stravinsky’s song Chanson Russe, from an aria in his opera, Mavra. This transcription was also made for a concert tour with Dushkin, this time in 1937.
I highly recommend this CD to all lovers of fine music. It is a quality recording that is worth adding to one’s collection, particularly those looking for something a little different. You can buy it on BuyWell.