"Transfigured Mozart" - eight piano arrangements
of music by Mozart including Raff's Reminiscenzen aus Mozart's Don Juan op.45
Petronel Malan, piano
Hänssler Classic CD 98.231 2006 DDD 73:48
Piano arrangements of airs from famous operas were a staple of music publishing houses in the 19th. century; they brought the theatre into the home and salon. Raff penned about 30 of these potpourris and for the first half of his career their production kept the wolf from his door. The thirteenth of them is a ten minute fantasia from Mozart's Don Giovanni entitled Reminiscenzen aus Mozart's Don Juan or, as here, Souvenirs de Don Giovanni. Raff's op.45 was later republished as the sixth volume (of twelve) of his opera arrangements in the collection Die Oper im Salon (The Opera in the Salon).
Petronel Malan's recital for Hänssler Classic features seven reworkings for piano of Mozart's music, by composers as chronologically and stylistically diverse as Hummel and Reger. Some are straight transcriptions, whereas others are variations or fantasies using Mozart's themes as starting points. Her aim is to illustrate the varying perceptions of Mozart's music by succeeding generations of musicians and in this she succeeds admirably. She is aided by her style of playing which in its crispness and precision of articulation is particularly well suited to this hybrid fare of 1780s Vienna overlaid with varying degrees of romanticism. Even in Reger's giant Variations and Fugue on a Theme of W.A. Mozart, we are never allowed to forget that Mozart is at the heart of each of these works. Ms Malan reponds to the formidable virtuosic demands of many of these reworkings with such aplomb that one is hardly aware of the pianistic effort involved. All is clarity, and an absence of portentous self-indulgence allows both composers in each piece to speak for themselves.
Raff's op.45 dates from 1848 and it is the earliest of his works to be recorded commercially. Ms Malan writes of the work: "When I was putting the Mozart disc together, this Raff fell in place rather naturally. I was looking for a Don Giovanni transcription, but was avoiding the standard over-played Liszt and any Liszt, Busoni and Godowsky in general. Of all the various ones I looked at -and believe me there were many - I liked the Raff Don Giovanni immediately: It is very pianistic and feels comfortable on the hand (even though you need very large hands) and is just under 10 minutes, which gives it a substantial spot on a recording. Since Raff was a pianist himself, this composition feels natural. (It is not like Tchaikovsky who, at times, had no idea what works on a keyboard). The Don Juan is in 3 sections and uses all the glitter that Liszt would use in a transcription, except it is 'cleaner' - the texture is not as thick as a Liszt. The structure is also tighter than Liszt's Don Juan. Liszt tends to elaborate on each statement with a cadenza before he moves on to the next theme. Raff does not dwell on melodies unnecessarily, even though he does use small cadenzas, he is more concise. He manages to give you a precise, yet quick overview of Don Giovanni. I found this a very successful and satisfying work to play".
Her appreciation of Raff's salon piece comes across clearly in her performance, which is very finely graded as the work progresses. A sprightly but sweetly lyrical Donna Anna & Ottavio is the sparest of the three linked sections; romantic decoration is only gradually allowed to seep into the textures. It is more to the fore in the central Zerlina & Don Giovanni episode which features engaging variations on "Deh vieni all finestra" and some inventive and effective contrapuntal writing so typical of Raff. Grim chords signal the Commendatore's presence ushering in the concluding dramatic Une fête champetre, at the end of which Raff pulls out the pianistic stops with a brief glittering virtuoso setting for "Finch han' dal vino", which Ms Malan carries off with great élan. She clearly enjoyed playing this piece which, like so many of Raff's salon works, was written with a care and intelligence which belies its humble status in his canon.
The other works are just as successful and are thoughtfully programmed too. Hummel's very 18th. century (for 1833) Fantasina on a Theme of Figaro is followed by Glinka's Mozart Variations. Thalberg's transcription of the Requiem's Lacrimosa and Alkan's transcription of the Andante from the String Quartet in A (complete with all four string parts) lead up to the Raff, after which come two fiendish transcriptions by the virtuoso Ignaz Friedman. Ms Malan displays her commanding technique to great effect in these pieces. Not only does she appear to play with ease the half dozen simultaneous lines which Friedman frequently calls for, but each can be heard clearly and with different dynamics. Quite a feat. The concluding work in this satisfying programme is the relatively familiar Reger Mozart Variations, but in an unfamiliar piano transcription by Karl Salomon of Reger's own transcription for two pianos. Despite the lush excesses of his late-romantic language, we are never in any doubt that these are variations on a theme by Mozart. Ms Malan's textures retain a classical clarity which is very refreshing.
Laurie Shulman's insert notes are intelligent and informative and the recording itself has just the right combination of warmth and realism. In sum, this is a delightful disk which I heartily recommend. Perhaps Petronel Malan and Hänssler can be persuaded to record a CD devoted to Raff's other opera arrangements? There are plenty to choose from and she clearly has an ear for Raff.
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