Henselt: Douze études caractéristiques de concert, Op. 2; Douze études de salon, Op. 5; Poème d’amour, Op. 3

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COMPOSERS: Henselt
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Douze études caractéristiques de concert, Op. 2; Douze études de salon, Op. 5; Poème d’amour, Op. 3
PERFORMER: Piers Lane (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67495
An exact contemporary of Liszt, Adolf von Henselt (1814-89) enjoyed a similar level of acclaim as one of the great virtuoso pianists of the 19th century. Yet although he composed assiduously for the piano, completing among other things a brilliant concerto, Henselt never established a really distinctive voice. In these two sets of Études, which cover all the major and minor scales, it’s difficult to perceive much individuality despite the undeniably effective writing for the instrument. All too often Henselt seems hidebound by a strong indebtedness to Chopin and Schumann almost to the extent of exact quotation in certain places. Moreover, despite the contrasting descriptive titles that he attached to each Étude, there’s often a feeling of the composer travelling exactly the same ground in different pieces. Perhaps these impressions are exacerbated if one listens to the two sets as an entity. Taken individually, there are some brilliant and atmospheric pieces such as spectacularly virtuosic D major from the Op. 2 set or the extended and heartfelt ‘Danklied nach Sturm’ from Op. 5, which could bring the house down in many a recital. Certainly Piers Lane works hard to extract the maximum degree of expression from this music and as always proves to be a most persuasive advocate of the neglected by-ways of 19th-century piano repertoire. Erik Levi

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