Schmidt: Concertante Variations; Beethoven / Ragna Schirmer

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Annette Oppermann’s booklet-note provides fascinating background about the two works on offer and why they make such apposite couplings. She does not tell us, however, that Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) was an Austrian pupil of Bruckner and Fuchs who also took piano lessons from Leschetizky. The influence of all three have some bearing on the merits of the Concertante Variations. Schmidt’s unlikely subject is the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, the one in which the violin jokily apes the piano’s staccato-note theme a quaver beat behind. The 30-minute work, written in tonal, late-Romantic language, is in seven linked sections which include a boléro, a chorale, a strict fugue and a graceful Ländler.

It was one of the works commissioned by wealthy one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein and first played by him in 1924. The original version has been recorded twice before; this two-hand version by Schmidt’s pupil Friedrich Wührer seems to have slipped through the net. I urge you to try it, for in these artists’ hands it unfolds as a listener-friendly work that is by turns lush, whimsical, richly lyrical, witty, ingenious and even comedic – the final bars, perfectly timed by Ragna Schirmer and Andrey Boreyko, made me laugh out loud.

I have devoted less space to the other Beethoven violin-derived work only because his piano version of the Violin Concerto is more widely known. Schirmer again proves herself to be a stylish and accomplished artist – she’s a keyboard stroker not hitter – producing a rich, organ-like sonority from the Steinway. A little more élan would not have gone amiss in the outer movements, but that is a minor cavil. Three cheers for a young pianist recording such an original and rewarding (and superbly engineered) programme.

-- Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone [4/2005]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: BC0017722

  • UPC: 782124177225

  • Label: Berlin Classics

  • Composer: Franz Schmidt, Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Conductor: Andrey Boreyko

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Ragna Schirmer