Virtuosic in Style
Piano music by
Adolf Jensen -
'... romantic, strongly melodic and individualistic, but never recorded before ...'
I was pleasantly surprised by the music of German composer Adolf Jensen (1837-1879), who flowered in the mid Romantic period. This disc is one of a series from Toccata Classics, a company set up to record music otherwise neglected by the recording industry. If the quality here is anything to go by, I am certain that this company will do very well.
Jensen's Opus 44 set of Erotikon display abstract characteristics of some classical Greek dieties. To my ears they show influences of other romantic piano composers — in particular Schumann (who Jensen wanted to study with) and Brahms, and inevitably there are similarities with other composers of the period. The music is original, however, and the melodic and textural styles are all his own.
The short first piece, Kassandra, is melodic and lyrical but with quite a lot of changes of texture.
The second movement, Die Zauberin, is florid and exciting writing, the melody appearing in the extreme registers of both the treble and bass with the accompaniment occurring in the middle parts. The climax comes some time before the end and is then repeated in a more heroic Chopinesque manner.
Listen — Adolf Jensen: Die Zauberin (Erotikon Op 44) (track 2, 0:00-0:40) © 2015 Toccata Classics :
The third piece, Galatea, is quite gentle and lyrical. The melody appears in the tenor part and it's accompanied by arpeggiated passages in the treble and bass.
I found the next piece, Elektra, strongly reminiscent of Schumann, and elements such as the tremolo-like accompaniment underpinning the melody made me think of Grieg. I wonder if Grieg was familiar with this composer's work?
Listen — Adolf Jensen: Elektra (Erotikon Op 44) (track 4, 0:40-1:19) © 2015 Toccata Classics :
Of the other three pieces in the set, Eros left the most lasting impression. This is strong and passionate music, a little like In der Nacht of Schumann in its lyrical moodiness. I think this is the composer at his best.
Listen — Adolf Jensen: Eros (Erotikon Op 44) (track 6, 1:00-1:39) © 2015 Toccata Classics :
Deutche Suite, Op 36, shows the composer's keen interest in the eighteenth century keyboard music of Bach, Scarlatti and some of those immediately following them, such as Clementi and Galuppi. I played music of both those composers in my youth and I could sense the similarities of style. This is no pastiche, however. Listen hard to these and enjoy. The Sarabande stood out for me, with its grand and ornate gestures but showing how important space and silence is as a musical device.
Listen — Adolf Jensen: Sarabande (Deutche Suite) (track 10, 2:01-2:35) © 2015 Toccata Classics :
So did the two gavottes, very different from each other, but with the second (a musette) finished off with the return of the first, as was often the style of the period.
Listen — Adolf Jensen: Gavotte II (Deutche Suite) (track 12, 0:00-0:46) © 2015 Toccata Classics :
These have an almost Respighi-like antiqueness about them, which is enchanting. I loved the final Gigue, a real tour de force, chromatic and always interesting, with the composer displaying his contrapuntal dexterity.
Three songs, arranged for solo piano by none other than Max Reger, are all lovely and show Jensen as a gifted composer of lieder. The standout piece for me is the last, 'Am Ufer des Flusses, des Manzanares ...', with its imitation of the strumming of the mandolin accompanying a singer. It's truly lovely.
The final Two Romances, Op 16, strongly suggest song, and in the first particularly, the melodic line can appear in any part, with the other voices accompanying with that florid arpeggiated writing wihich this composer appears to favour.
Listen — Adolf Jensen: Romanze 1 (Op 16) (track 17, 0:00-0:40) © 2015 Toccata Classics :
If you want to hear music that is romantic, strongly melodic and individualistic, but never recorded before, then you will enjoy this disc. The music is virtuosic in style, but never flashy or coarse and the pianist here, Erling R Eriksen, is to my mind exceptional, both in how he interprets this music, and also in getting around the considerable technical difficulties and making the music sound easy ... it's not! I'm looking forward to Toccata's second disc of Adolf Jensen's piano music.
Copyright © 4 August 2015 Geoff Pearce,