Day 331: Hungarian Dances (Piano Four Hands)

BrahmsCD25Today’s CD of Hungarian Dances written for four-hand piano was recorded in 1956 and features the legendary Alfred Brendel as one pair of hands and Walter Klien as the other pair.

Musically, it doesn’t get much better than this. The performances are sublime.

Sonically, there’s a lot of tape hiss. Not to the point of distraction. But one can definitely tell this recording is nearly 60 years old.

There are 21 tracks on this, the 25th of 58 CDs in the Brahms Complete Edition from Brilliant Classics.

I’m going to award this a Favorite Brhams CD designation for two reasons:

1. Alfred Brendel
2. It makes Brahms sound livelier and more interesting than he has been to this point

This music is perfect for passive listening while writing, reading, or thinking. And it sounds good enough for active listening as well. I’m really enjoying these little snippets of music.

From its
entry on Wikipedia:

The Hungarian Dances (German: Ungarische Tänze) by Johannes Brahms (WoO 1), are a set of 21 lively dance tunes based mostly on Hungarian themes, completed in 1869.

They vary from about a minute to four minutes in length. They are among Brahms’s most popular works, and were certainly the most profitable for him. Each dance has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles. Brahms originally wrote the version for piano four-hands and later arranged the first 10 dances for solo piano.

Only numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions. The most famous Hungarian Dance is No. 5 in F♯ minor, but even this dance was based on the csárdás by Béla Kéler titled “Bártfai emlék” which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong.

If these were composed in 1869 (the IMSLP web site suggests a much later date), then Brahms was 36.

Day 254: Bagatelles II, Misc. Piano Works

BeethovenCD59If shaking a stick is your thing, today’s CD will thrill you.

There are more trills, blistering runs up and down the keyboard, and lightning-quick scales on CD 59 than you can shake a stick at.

So get shakin’ because this is serious music for seriously gifted pianists.

Here’s what’s on today’s CD:

6 Bagatelles Op. 126

Rondo A Capriccio in G Op. 129

Rondo in C Op. 51 No. 1

7 Bagatelles Op. 33

Andante Favori in F Wo057

Ziemlich lebhaft in B-Flat Major WoO60

Once again, Alfred Brendel is the ivory tickler.

And that’s nothing to shake a stick at.

Day 253: Piano Variations IV, Bagatelles I

BeethovenCD58There are 45 tracks on today’s CD. I’m not going to list them all.

They’re broken up into two sections, however.

I will list those:

33 Variations in C Op. 120

11 Bagatelles Op. 119

I’m not a fan of variations CDs that contain so many tracks. It’s hard for me to appreciate or get into compositions that only last a minute or so.

I will say Track 3 (“Poco allegro”) reminded me of Dave Brubeck. It had a Boogie-Woogie jazz feel to it.

The rest of these tracks, although well crafted, don’t interest me. They’re not long enough in which to immerse myself.

Day 252: Piano Variations III, Piano Sonatas Wo047, Misc. Piano Works I

BeethovenCD57Two pianists perform on today’s CD: Alfred Brendel and Ulrich Staerk.

I’ve been listening to Alfred for a week or two. He’s fantastic.

I’m not familiar with Ulrich Staerk. So I’ll have to Google him.

According to the Naxos web site (Naxos is another excellent Classical music label),

Ulrich Stærk has been a much sought-after concert pianist in Denmark since his debut in Copenhagen in 1989, and has a wide-ranging career on the Continent with concerts in cities like Paris, Vienna and London. He has worked with artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Barbara Frittoli, Inga Nielsen and the Rubinstein Quartet, and has been a soloist with several orchestras; among these we can mention the Schleswig-Holstein Symphony Orchestra, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra/DR, the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra and the regional orchestras in Århus and North Slesvig in piano concertos by Chopin, Mozart, Ravel, Bartók, Shostakovich, de Falla, Beethoven, Grieg, Gershwin and Czerny.

That doesn’t tell me how old he is. But it tells me he’s accomplished.

Tracks 1-9 (Alfred) were recorded between 1961 and 1964. They are:

6 Easy Variations in F Wo064 on a Swiss Air

9 Variations in A Wo069 on Paisello’s Air “Quant’e piu bello”

6 Variations in G Wo077 on an Original Theme

8 Variations in C Wo072 on Gretry’s Air “Un fievre brulante”

Rondo in G Op. 51 No. 2

Allegretto in C Minor Wo053

6 Ecossaises Wo083

Bagatelle in A Minor Wo059 “Fure Elise”

Polonaise in C Op. 89

Tracks 10-15 (Ulrich) were recorded in 2007. They are:

Piano Sonata in E Flat Wo047 No. 1

Piano Sonata in F Minor Wo047 No. 2

The incomparable “Fur Elise” is on this CD. I consider it one of the most beautiful melodies ever created.

Overall, I prefer Alfred Brendel over Ulrich Staerk. But Continue reading

Day 251: PIano Variations II

BeethovenCD56Another absolutely delightful CD, filled with astounding music performed flawlessly by Alfred Brendel.

Which is great because today is my birthday.

Happy Birthday to me!

Thank you for these “presents” Ludwig and Alfred:

32 Variations in C Minor Wo080 on an original theme

7 Variations in F Wo075

24 Variations in D Wo065

6 Variations in G Wo070

8 Variations in F Wo076

13 Variations in W Wo066

10 Variations in B Flat Wo073

Day 250: Piano Variations I, Piano Sonata Op. 49 No. 2

BeethovenCD55This is a fascinating, magical CD from start to finish.

It begins with a really strange track (15 Variations in E Flat Op. 35 “Eroica”) with a lot of pounding on the piano and a dissonant-sounding theme.

In the middle is “God Save the King” (7 Variations in D Wo078) and at the end is a sprightly, nimble-fingered composition called 6 Variations in D Op. 76 “Ruins of Athens.”

Here’s the complete track list:

15 Variations in E Flat Op. 35 “Eroica”

Piano Sonata No. 20 in G Op. 49 No. 2

5 Variations in D Wo079 on “Rule Britannia”

7 Variations in D Wo078 on “God Save the King”

12 Variations in A Wo071

6 Variations in G Op. 34 on an original theme

6 Variations in D Op. 76

The recordings were made between 1961 and 1964, but they sound fresh as yesterday.

Day 249: Piano Sonatas Op. 7, Op. 49 No. 2

BeethovenCD54Once again, Alfred Brendel‘s masterful piano playing and Beethoven’s extraordinary gift for composing combine to create music that grabs me from the get-go.

To me, Movement I (“Allegro molto e con brio”) of Piano Sonata No. 4 in E Flat Op. 7 sounds more like Boogie-Woogie Jazz or some kind of contemporary improvisational music than it does Classical music.

But then the stately Movement II (“Largo con gran espressione”) follows and I am reminded that I’m listening to Classical music from the late Classical period as it morphs into the Romantic period.

Here’s what I’ve been Continue reading

Day 248: Piano Sonatas Op. 13 “Pathetique,” Op. 22, Op. 26 “Funeral March,” Op. 78

BeethovenCD53Today’s CD, like so many others, features some of Beethoven’s best work – at least, to my ears.

For example, the first composition – Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor Op. 13 “Pathetique,” which is analyzed on Wikipedia in this entry:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, commonly known as Sonata Pathétique, was written in 1798 when the composer was 27 years old, and was published in 1799. Beethoven dedicated the work to his friend Prince Karl von Lichnowsky. Although commonly thought to be one of the few works to be named by the composer himself, it was actually named Grande sonate pathétique (to Beethoven’s liking) by the publisher, who was impressed by the sonata’s tragic sonorities.

Prominent musicologists debate whether or not the Pathétique may have been inspired by Mozart’s piano sonata K. 457, since both compositions are in C minor and have three very similar movements. The second movement, “Adagio cantabile”, especially, makes use of a theme remarkably similar to that of the spacious second movement of Mozart’s sonata. However, Beethoven’s sonata uses a unique motif line throughout, a major difference from Haydn or Mozart’s creation.

This sounds more like Beethoven than the pieces he dedicated to Haydn. It’s dynamic, with an emphasis on introspection and melancholy.

Coincidentally, as I was listening to this piece, I wondered if Continue reading

Day 247: Piano Sonatas Op. 10 No. 3, Op. 2 Nos. 2 & 3

BeethovenCD52Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Op. 10 No. 3 starts off with a bang – Movement I carries the tempo “Presto” – and never lets up.

I’ve heard a lot of opening movements in my journeys through all of these composers. I don’t recall too many that began like a race horse out of the gate.

But I do believe that may be the unifying theme on today’s CD.

Each of the piano sonatas on today’s CD begin with a speedier-than-usual opening movement:

Allegro vivace
Allegro con brio


At least, they all sounded that way to me.

What do I know? I’m not a musicologist.

Here’s what I’m Continue reading

Day 246: Piano Sonatas Op. 14 No. 2, Op. 27 Nos. 1 & 2 “Moonlight,” Op. 28 “Pastoral”

BeethovenCD51I was hooked – hooked! – from the first notes of today’s CD.

It just has that indefinable, magical quality I like in my piano sonatas.

Plus, it has the incomparable Alfred Brendel tickling the ivories.

Did I just type that?

Do Classical pianists tickle anything, let alone ivories?

And, for that matter, are piano keys made of ivory?


Today’s piano sonatas are superb. This immediately became one of my favorite Beethoven Piano Sonata CDs.

Here’s what I am listening to today:

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 10 in G Op. 14 No. 2

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 14, No. 2, composed in 1798–1799, is an early-period work by Ludwig van Beethoven, dedicated to Baroness Josefa von Braun. A typical performance lasts 15 minutes. While it is not as well known as some of the more original sonatas of Beethoven’s youth, such as the ‘Pathétique’ or ‘Moonlight’ sonatas, Tovey[1] described it as an ‘exquisite little work.’

Beethoven was 28-29 when he composed this piece.

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 13 in E Flat Op. 27 No. 1

According to its entry on Wiki:

Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major “Quasi una fantasia”, Op. 27, No. 1, is a sonata composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1800–1801.

Beethoven was about 30 years old when he wrote the sonata. He had already made a name for himself in Vienna as pianist and composer and was beginning to explore alternatives to the classical-era compositional procedures that he had largely adhered to during the 18th century. The most famous works of his “middle period”, often emphasizing heroism, were yet to come.

Beethoven’s sketches for the first, second, and final movements survive, but the original autograph copy is lost. The sonata was published separately from its more famous companion, Opus. 27 No. 2 (the so-called “Moonlight” Sonata), but at the same time, by Cappi in Vienna; the first advertisements for the work appeared 3 March 1802. Both Op. 27 sonatas were originally titled Sonata quasi una fantasia.

The dedicatee of the work was (as was typical of the time) an aristocrat, Princess Josephine von Liechtenstein. Little is known of Beethoven’s relationship with her.

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor Op. 27 No. 2 “Moonlight”

As I wrote at the outset, the opening notes of Piano Sonata No. 10 in G Op. 13 No. 2 drew me in to today’s CD. Movement I (“Andante – Allegro – Andante”) of Piano Sonata no 13 in E Flat Op. 27 No. 1 sweetened the deal.

But the main reason why Continue reading