WORKS: Variations on a Theme of Edvard Grieg; Spiel um ein Kinderlied; Sonatine; Drei Tanz-Improvisationen
PERFORMER: Karen Haid (flute, piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5696
For an age as dedicated as ours to disinterring the diversions of pianists who also composed, the works of Walter Gieseking have remained, until now, curiously unexplored. Gieseking was self-taught in composition, but he had first-rate models before his eyes and under his fingers most of the time. These works – civilised, beautifully laid out, sometimes witty, often touching – aren’t great music, but they arouse affection and very definitely deserve the occasional outing.
Gieseking’s famous affinity for French music is faithfully reflected in his own compositions. If I’d listened, innocent ear, to the substantial variations on one of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, I’d have hazarded they were
by a gifted compatriot and conservatoire contemporary of Debussy and Ravel. Gieseking writes exquisitely for the flute – his interest perhaps sparked by his father, an amateur of the instrument – and the Variations, especially, seem to me a notable addition to its repertoire. If it betrays any ‘Germanic’ trait it is probably in the expansively developmental final variation, a slow finale nearly as long as all the other variations combined, that prepares the way for a neatly affecting return statement of the Theme. The later Sonatina seems more redolent of Poulenc, while the jazzy Tanz-Improvisationen unexpectedly suggest an enthusiasm for Gershwin and Scott Joplin. It’s the solo-piano transcriptions of Strauss Lieder that seem merely dutiful. Karen Haid, clearly a devoted exponent, is equally gifted on piano and flute and is presumably multi-tracking rather than sporting an extra pair of limbs. An enjoyable release. Calum MacDonald