Monday, 31 July 2017

Hiroaki Takenouchi plays Sterndale Bennett and Schumann

Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett
Sterndale Bennett, Schumann; Hiroaki Takenouchi; Artalinna
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 23 2017
Romantic piano music from an English friend of Schumann

If you play Hiroaki Takenouchi's new CD on Artalinna blind, then the first work on the disc presents an interesting challenge. The second work is Schumann's Symphonic Studies, but what is the first work, an extended lyrical almost Schumann-esque sonata? There is also a pleasing melodic quality to the piece, not salon music but there is a sense of melodic charm. In fact, it is the Sonata Op.13 by William Sterndale Bennett.

William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) is one of the great missed opportunities of 19th century British music. Between 1836 and 1842 (from the age of 20 to 32), Bennett travelled extensively to Leipzig, spent a lot of time there and knew Mendelssohn and Schumann. He admired both, and the feeling seems to have been mutual and he performed his own music there (as well as organising the first cricket match ever played in Germany). But despite this, Bennett ultimately returned home and took a safe job as the principal of the Royal Academy of Music. He would continue composing, sporadically, but his later works lack the brilliance and innovation of his earlier ones and his style never really developed.

I have long been familiar with Bennett's piano concertos (Bennett was the soloist in the third with Mendelssohn conducting at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig in the 1836/37 season), but am new to Bennett's piano music.

Hiroachi Takenouchi
Hiroachi Takenouchi
Whilst Bennett admired Mendelssohn, being in awe of him, Bennett seems to have regarded Schumann as a friend going for long country walks by day and visiting the local taverns by night. Schumann dedicated his Symphonic Studies (which Hiroaki Takenouchi plays on the disc) to Bennett, whilst Bennett dedicated his Fantasie Op. 16 to Schumann. Schumann also introduced a compliment to Bennett in the Symphonic Studies by way of a musical quote from Marschner's Ivanhoe based opera The Templer and the Jewess, a quote where Ivanhoe sings 'Thou, proud England rejoice'.
On this disc Hiroaki Takenouchi pairs Schumann's Symphonic Studies , with Bennett's Sonata in F minor, Op.13. Bennett started the sonata in London before he travelled to Leipzig in 1836. He completed the work in Leipzig and it became a wedding gift for Mendelssohn on his marriage in March 1837.

Bennett's sonata is one of the most ambitious pieces that he had written so far, and it would have few equals in the composer's output. It is a large scale romantic work lasting over 30 minutes, and not at all what we might expect from an English composer in the 1830s. Though the movements are all conventional in form, the composers makes them personal statements.

As Bennett dedicated his Fantasie Op. 16 to Schumann, I do hope that Hiroaki Takenouchi will continue his exploration of Bennett's music with a recording of this substantial work.

William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) - Piano Sonata in F minor, op.13
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Etudes in Form of Variations "Symphonic Etudes"
Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano)

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