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SUMMER COURSES & FESTIVALS MONTH: A festival in North Germany where only rare piano music is performed

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The Husum Rarities of Piano Music festival tickles the palates of even the most jaded pianophile

18-26 August

 

Alkan. Thalberg, Moszkowski. Stanchinsky. Are you feeling hungry? Simply listing a few of the composers to be featured in this year’s Husum Festival of Piano Rarities should be enough to get lips licking and mouths watering among the loyal following which will descend on the North Sea harbour town for nine recitals in eight late-August days, impatient for curiosities and revelations dished up by festival director Peter Froundjian.

A vast library of piano literature is now available at the click of a mouse, to buy and listen to, but there’s nothing like the live experience, and this is where, according to Froundjian, promoters and halls have been too slow or too cautious to catch on. ‘I feel there’s a mission that I should show the public in this special festival the great diversity of piano repertoire. After the Second World War, programmes became more and more narrow, focusing on the classics and modern music. All those works which were more Romantic and virtuosic were excluded. And the architecture of a piano recital should be more diverse than it often is, with only Beethoven sonatas and the same things over and over again.’

Liszt hovers over the festival like a godfatherly spirit. ‘He had such wide scope in his ambitions,’ remarks Froundjian. ‘But we hear such a narrow range of Liszt works in concert – always the Sonata, maybe paraphrases.’ He treasures the memory of the Hymne de la Nuit – a genuine Liszt rarity – in last year’s festival, and revivals of the F minor Sonata by York Bowen and the Piano Quintet of Ignaz Friedman.

Such pianist-composers inevitably loom large in this year’s programme. In his 15th appearance at the festival, Marc-André Hamelin brings the sonatas of Feinberg, Moszkowski which is new to his vast repertoire, and a piece by Alasdair Hinton, ‘a very interesting gaze back at the Vocalise of Rachmaninov through the eyes of Sorabji.’ Antonio Pompa-Baldi plays not only Medtner and Rubinstein but his own arrangements of Edith Piaf and a sonata by Roberto Piana, Après une lecture de Liszt: even Froundjian hasn’t heard this before.

There are more transcriptions in Daniel Berman’s recital: ‘He was known to Earl Wild,’ Froundjian explains, ‘who left him some manuscripts. Body and Soul is his arrangement of the jazz standard, and we’re giving the world premiere.’ Vincenzo Maltempo will play four hyper-virtuoso Russian sonatas by Stanchinsky, Glazunov, Dmitri Blagoy and Victor Kosenko, including some of the most technically challenging music in the festival. According to the director, ‘It’s a good counterpart to other programmes which are dominated by smaller pieces such as Nadejda Vlaeva’s recital. Even there is a Fantasy by Robert Volkmann which I suggested to her’ – between the tantalising prospect of a Rameau Suite from Godowsky and miniatures by Vladigerov, father and son.

The festival closes with an evening-long, out-and-out masterpiece: Jorge Luis Prats playing the complete Iberia of Albeníz, which is not encountered in concert in a month of Sundays. ‘It is a very knowledgeable audience,’ remarks Froundjian ‘but not only that, they are simply lovers of good piano music. They distinguish themselves from other audiences because they are very attentive and concentrated. More than one pianist has said to me that they have never experienced such a silent public.’ Peter Quantrill 

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