Classical CD Reviews

Grand Romance = MOSZKOWSKI: Caprice espagnol; Etincelles; La Jongleuse; SCHUETT: A la bien-aimee; Canzonetta in D Major; HENSELT: If I were a bird; Petite Valse in F Major; PADEREWSKI: Nocturne in B-flat Major; CUI: Causerie; BORTKIEWICZ: Lyrica Nova; SCHLOEZER: Etude in E-flat Major; LEVITZKI: Valse in A Major; SGAMBATI: Gavotta in A-flat Minor; RUBINSTEIN: Reve Angelique; SCHULZ-EVLER: Arabesques on “The Blue Danube”; CHASINS: Rush Hour in Hong Kong – Jeffrey Biegel, p. – Steinway & Sons

With 16 selections of virtuoso showpieces, Jeffrey Biegel and his Steinway D provide more than an hour’s worth of elegant, even dazzling, salon vehicles from the Romantic sensibility.

Published on July 24, 2013

Grand Romance = MOSZKOWSKI: Caprice espagnol; Etincelles; La Jongleuse; SCHUETT: A la bien-aimee; Canzonetta in D Major; HENSELT: If I were a bird;  Petite Valse in F Major; PADEREWSKI: Nocturne in B-flat Major; CUI: Causerie; BORTKIEWICZ: Lyrica Nova; SCHLOEZER: Etude in E-flat Major; LEVITZKI: Valse in A Major; SGAMBATI: Gavotta in A-flat Minor; RUBINSTEIN: Reve Angelique; SCHULZ-EVLER: Arabesques on “The Blue Danube”; CHASINS: Rush Hour in Hong Kong – Jeffrey Biegel, p. – Steinway & Sons

Grand Romance = MOSZKOWSKI: Caprice espagnol; Etincelles; La Jongleuse; SCHUETT: A la bien-aimee; Canzonetta in D Major; HENSELT: If I were a bird;  Petite Valse in F Major; PADEREWSKI: Nocturne in B-flat Major; CUI: Causerie; BORTKIEWICZ: Lyrica Nova; SCHLOEZER: Etude in E-flat Major; LEVITZKI: Valse in A Major; SGAMBATI: Gavotta in A-flat Minor; RUBINSTEIN: Reve Angelique; SCHULZ-EVLER: Arabesques on “The Blue Danube”; CHASINS: Rush Hour in Hong Kong – Jeffrey Biegel, p. – Steinway & Sons 30017, 65:35 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel, whose virtuoso career embraces both classical and popular repertory, turns (rec. 24-26 July 2012) to the intimate or brilliant keyboard salon pieces with which pianist Frank Glazer made a touring phenomenon a generation ago. Biegel generally wishes to pay homage to composer-performers who left select miniatures as a lasting legacy to the keyboard. Given Biegel’s admiration for the legendary pianist Josef Lehevinne (1874-1944), noted for his ravishing technique and piano tone, it seems inevitable that Biegel should turn his attention to the arrangement by Adolf Andrei Schulz-Evler (1852-1905) of the Johann Strauss By the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz, a Lhevinne spectacular.  Biegel opens with the glittery Spanish Caprice by Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), a specialty of another towering piano talent, Josef Hofmann. Etincelles (“Sparklers”) would often be an encore for the likes of Romantic pianists like Bolet, Wild, and Hofmann. La Jongleuse rivals several of the Chopin etudes for bravura legerdemain. Moszkowski asks of Biegel plenty of double notes, quick shifts of touch and register, and slick glissandos to fly about, dazzlers that Biegel executes or “juggles” with the necessary flair. Eduard Schuett (1856-1933) provides a debonair Viennese character in his two contributions, each sentimental and dreamily glossy at once.

Cesar Cui (1835-1918), more Russian critic than fertile composer, has in his 1886 Causerie a lovely crossed-hands etude that must want to rival Liszt’s Un Sospiro in romantic affect. Adolf von Henselt (1814-1889) became noted in Germany and St. Petersburg as a serious rival to both Chopin and Liszt, and his two characteristic pieces evoke, respectively fluttering lightness (Si oiseau j’etais) and suave metrically intricate elegance (Petite Valse No. 1) from Biegel. The first piece I ever heard by Sergei Bortkowicz (1877-1952) was played Ruth Slenczynska. Biegel performs his exotic 1940 Andantino from Lyrica Nova, a water piece close in spirit to Ravel or Scriabin. The great Ignaz Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) receives one selection, a delicate Nocturne in B-flat, a piece that sighs against an ostinati bass most sentimentally.  The other piano superstar, Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), receives homage by way of the ubiquitous, flotation-device Reve Angelique (or Kamennoi-Ostrow) that played a part in Dietrich’s performance in Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress. Biegel’s rendition proves as diaphanous as any I’ve heard.

Except for the Schulz-Evler contribution, the remainder of the recital is comprised of “occasional” pieces from the bravura-encore repertory. Mischa Levitzky (1898-1941), who died much too young, was a dazzling virtuoso, especially in Liszt. His lilting 1921 A Major Valse would find its way onto his own programs and those of the ultimate Romantic, Shura Cherakassky. Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914), like Ferruccio Busoni, kept his musical heart more in Germany than in sunny Italy. His Gavotta (1880) casts an aura both antique and martial, played with Biegel’s firm but light hand. Paul de Schlozer (1841-1898) may or may not have composed the Etude de Concert whose large spans, bold octaves, and bubbling triplets impress us. Abram Chasins (1903-1987) has had several pianists – most recently on record for me, Constance Keene – play his busily frantic Rush Hour in Hong Kong from his Three Chinese Pieces, rife with modal scales and tritones. Finally, the selection of honor of Biegel’s “musical grandfather” Josef Lhevinne, the Arabesques on “The Blue Danube,” has ‘Danube waves’ in abundance, huge trills, and slick pearly-play in spades, to make Stanley Kubrick wish that this arrangement had graced his 2001 project. Engineer Daniel Shores has made Biegel’s Steinway sound fluent, natural, and luxuriantly smooth.

—Gary Lemco




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