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Julius Reubke, Sonatas

available at Amazon
Schumann, Kreisleriana / Reubke, Sonata, T. Fellner

available at Amazon
Reubke, Sonatas for Organ
and Piano, J. Filsell

Online scores:
Reubke, Der 94ste Psalm (organ)
Sonata in B-Flat Minor (piano)
Many of the recordings we review here, as usual, are new releases, but sometimes it is fun to look backward to older recordings, either as a way to backfill one’s experience of an artist of current interest or to provide new alternatives to one’s listening of key works. Austrian pianist Till Fellner has been featured in our pages several times in the last few years, especially this year because of his Beethoven piano sonata cycle here in Washington, still in progress. Before his current contract with ECM, Fellner released a few discs on various labels, including this double bill of Schumann and Julius Reubke with Erato. For Kreisleriana, the reference recording is still probably Mitsuko Uchida or Maurizio Pollini, but the 20-something Fellner’s reading, made in 1995, has much to recommend it, showcasing his already prodigious talents as a colorist. The violent contrasts make the piece, but Fellner's reading is sometimes more rashly conceived than technically polished.

The real interest of this recording is the piano sonata by Julius Reubke (1834-1858), a young German pianist who became the favorite pupil of Franz Liszt in 1856, only to die two years later. The symptoms of the tuberculosis that eventually killed Reubke were already apparent at the time he completed this sonata in B-flat minor. Its basic form (sections of contrasting tempo within one large movement) and many of its melodic ideas and harmonic oddities show a kinship with Liszt's B minor sonata, completed just a few years earlier (indeed, Reubke dedicated his sonata to his teacher). Few composers of the mid-century were as harmonically adventurous, although Reubke's brand of chromaticism is cut from the same cloth as Wagner and others, obviously owing much to the influence of Liszt. Fellner's reading reminds me of his performance of the Hammerklavier sonata last month, a little cool, downplaying the technical challenges.

A less expensive and somewhat flashier option for the Reubke sonata is the recording by British pianist Jeremy Filsell, now available from Amazon by MP3 download. Filsell, recently appointed as organist at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington (in the interest of full disclosure, where I am also employed as a singer), has paired it with Reubke's much less obscure sonata for organ, a dramatic setting of selected lines from Psalm 94. Even if you know it (and many organists will), this is a version worth hearing, because it was recorded on the Friedrich Ladegast Organ in the Cathedral of Merseburg, where Reubke himself premiered the work on June 17, 1857, only two years after the instrument was installed. The unusual color palette of its registrations, infelicities of intonation and all, make the piece come to life. Without really critiquing a friend's recording in print, I think it is worth hearing.

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