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Beethoven Symphonies, Volume 1

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Catalogue No: SOMMCD 0637
Release Date: 16/07/2021
Number of Discs: 1
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SOMM Recordings announces the launch of a major six-volume series of Franz Xaver Scharwenka’s transcriptions of Beethoven Symphonies featuring the label debut of the Tessa Uys and Ben Schoeman Piano Duo.

Formed in 2010, the Duo began their in-concert exploration of Scharwenka’s four-hand Beethoven transcriptions in 2015 and now bring that experience to disc for the first time.

Volume 1 includes the premiere recording of Scharwenka’s piano duet transcription of Symphony No.3, the ever-popular Eroica, and Debussy’s two-piano arrangement of Robert Schumann’s Six Studies in Canonic Form.

As Robert Matthew-Walker’s booklet notes reveal, Scharwenka had a direct line to Beethoven, having been taught by Franz Kullak, who was tutored by Carl Czerny whose own teacher, in turn, had been Beethoven himself.

A composer of no mean stature in his own right, Scharwenka’s transcriptions were once widely admired, making masterpiece symphonies available to every home with a piano. Possessing, says Matthew-Walker, “significant qualities which are often overlooked today”, his Eroica transcription receives ardent, eloquently persuasive championing by Schoeman and Uys.

Scharwenka wasn’t alone in exploiting new developments in piano technology. Robert Schumann’s Six Studies in Canonic Form made use of the then novel ‘pedal-piano’ (a standard piano with an additional bass pedal-board) even as he was looking back stylistically towards his idol, Bach. Debussy’s arrangement for two pianos adroitly accommodates Schumann’s original to “rescue this fine music from the obscurity of the pedal-piano repertoire”.

Born in Cape Town and a Royal Academy of Music Associate, Tessa Uys has an impressive reputation as a concert and broadcasting performer, appearing at major venues throughout the world. Her multi-prize-winning South African compatriot Ben Schoeman also has a busy international profile and is currently a senior lecturer in piano and musicology at the University of Pretoria.

On This Recording

    Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 Eroica, in E flat major - arr. Franz Xaver Scharwenka for one piano, four hands*
  1. I Allegro con brio
  2. II Marcia funebre. Adagio assai
  3. III Scherzo. Allegro vivace - Trio
  4. IV Finale. Allegro molto - Poco andante - Presto
  5. Six Studies in Canonic form, Op. 56 - arr. Claude Debussy for two pianos
  6. I Study in C major. Nicht zu schnell
  7. II Study in A minor. Mit innigem Ausdruck
  8. III Study in E major. Andantino - Etwas bewegter
  9. IV Study in A flat major. Innig
  10. V study in B minor. Nicht zu schnell
  11. VI Study in B major. Adagio
* First recordings

Reviews:

“In the pure state, as it were, and splendidly put across, the work’s argument has a drivenness and gloriousness that seem to define what a musical argument might be. Debussy’s transcription of Schumann’s canonic studies for pedal piano makes a fetching filler.” —Paul Driver, The Sunday Times

“heard on a piano played by four hands, Beethoven’s music sounds thick, rich, complex and hearty. Particularly satisfying for lovers of thick scrunchy chords, are the sequence of heartstopping meaty affairs from 2’42” in the first movement. I especially like the bristling third movement scherzo made more lively in duet format… the production gives a sense of place that triggers the imagination” —Jon Jacob, Thoroughly Good

“There are surprises galore: the first movement seems to be able to dance at a moment’s notice in this performance… There is also a sense of detail that shines through in Tessa Uys and Ben Schoeman’s performance – lines project easily… The famous “Marcia funèbre” takes on an almost granitic effect here, the relentlessness of the bass statements awe-inspiring. Throughout all of this one has to pay tribute to Scharwenka’s experise: how beautifully it is laid out for the two pianists at one piano, but also how clear everything is (credit for this latter should be shared with the present performers, of course!). The Duo play with not only great strength but much sensitivity: I particularly enjoy Uys’ legato lines in the slow movement; but equally as appealing is both pianists’ agility in the Scherzo (and what a great immitation of the three horns there is here!). … While the “Eroica” is both fascinating and important, it is the Schumann/Debussy that absolutely captivated my heart.” —Colin Clarke, Classical Explorer