Bruckner piano music

0 of 5 stars

Sonata in G minor – First Movement
Stille Betrachtung an einem Herbstabend
Klavierstuck in E flat
Fantasie in G
Symphony No.7 – Adagio (transcription by Cyrill Hynais)

Fumiko Shiraga (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: BIS-CD-1297

Announce this CD as April begins and it might be thought a hoax. Even those with a specific interest in Bruckner’s music will have had few opportunities to hear these pieces. While each is no more than a curiosity, this is an obligatory purchase for seasoned Brucknerians. To those that consider Bruckner boring and long-winded, this release could be a revelation – the music here being intimate and pleasing.

Of course, it’s Bruckner’s vast symphonies and his profound settings of religious texts that are his legacy. These piano works are but trifles in comparison. That he wrote so little for the instrument is emphasised by the inclusion of the transcription of the Seventh’s ’Adagio’ by Cyrill Hynais (there are four-handed versions of the whole symphony), which accounts for twenty-seven minutes of the CD’s playing time. In this Fumiko Shiraga is a spacious guide; indeed, she could have let the music flow more to advantage. That the music retains its gravitas, if not its sustained ambience, is a tribute to its greatness. In quieter, sparer sections, the black-and-white dressing works well enough; in more harmonically complex passages, the loss of orchestral textures is more noticeable; yet Shiraga is a sensitive player and the music in this purer form retains its originality and expressive power.

It’s the remainder of the CD that is of especial interest. Play the only movement from the G minor sonata and early Schubert comes to mind – as does the thought that everything Schubert wrote was early, albeit, of course, remarkably experienced and visionary in the final years. Those latter qualities are not evident in Bruckner’s experiment with sonata form, written in 1862 when he was 38, his earliest symphonies, including those designated “00” and “0”, still to be begun. However, one does register this movement’s Beethovenian drive, the charmingly naïve ideas and his very classical working out of them.

Quiet Contemplation on an Autumn Evening (1863) is a truly lovely piece – try passing it off as a Chopin Nocturne. The four-section 1850 Quadrille reminds that Bruckner liked a dance – and a beer! Each is a winner and very entertaining using – as Quadrilles do – hits from operas, here Zar und Zimmermann and La fille du regiment. The miniature Steiermarker is similarly for teaching purposes; its gentle step enters the world of Schubert’s German Dances.

The piece in E major (1856) is a contemplative slow waltz, a tad Brahmsian. The remaining pieces (both 1868) include a wistful Fantasy that contrasts Tchaikovskian sadness with a polka-like second part, and Erinnerung (Reminiscence), a Lisztian dreamscape, previously heard on a Hyperion CD of “Rare Piano Encores” from Leslie Howard.

These stylistic differences are not important. Bruckner’s greatness lies beyond the piano and the salon. Leaving aside the symphony-movement transcription, the other pieces are simply very attractive on their own terms. Fumiko Shiraga does well by them and the recording is excellent.

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