A little-known ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ for the 19th century in a superbly engineered new version.
Long known as Beethoven’s pupil, Liszt’s teacher and the bane of countless piano students ever since as the prolific author of exercises and studies which have won foundational status in their importance for piano technique, Carl Czerny (1791-1858) is finally gaining recognition as a composer in his own right. During the 19th century, while his pupils were still alive to play them, his concertos still enjoyed a measure of familiarity and success, but Czerny’s sheer industry obscured his creative achievements: where should a listener start with a catalogue of opus numbers into the four figures?
The 48 Preludes and Fugues in the present collection are as good a place to start as any, especially for anyone familiar with their obvious inspiration in the Old Testament of contrapuntal technique assembled by Bach across two volumes of The Well-Tempered Clavier. Czerny would hardly claim to live up to the Leipzig master’s probing depths of expression or originality of melodic inspiration, but his set nonetheless boasts pleasures of its own, starting with the C major Prelude which puts a rhapsodic gloss on Bach’s immortal introduction. And as early as the A minor Fugue we find a subject of notable individuality as well as the craft on Czerny’s part to carry off a five-minute fugue of many grave beauties. There are more contemporary contrapuntal devices on show, too, such as the interludes of the fugues in Nos. 14 and 22. Overall the composer takes pains to integrate the principles of High-Baroque counterpoint with the ‘galant’ style that preceded the Biedermeier in the early decades of the 19th century, making this a collection at once in and outside its time.
In 2017 Emanuele Delucchi gave the first known performance of Czerny’s Op.856 in modern times, and this is only the second recording. Born in 1987 and based in Milan, he specialises in the super-virtuoso repertoire of the late-19th century, recording much-admired albums of music by Alkan, Godowsky and d’Albert. This is his fifth album for Piano Classics.
Critical praise for Emanuele Delucchi’s Piano Classics albums:
Godowsky, PCL0096: ‘A splendidly chosen Godowsky sampler… served up by a committed virtuoso with the huge sonority and the strong fingerwork the repertoire demands.’ Fanfare
Godowsky, PCL0122: ‘Delucchi’s total comfort with and absorption of Godowsky’s serpentine idiom makes itself felt in every measure.’ Classics Today
Godowsky, PCL0122: ‘Only top-flight virtuosos need apply. Emanuele Delucchi is one of them… in a class of his own.’ Gramophone
Bach/d’Albert, PCL10139: ‘A fine artist.’ Fanfare
Carl Czerny, a famous pianist and teacher, student of Beethoven, wrote an immense oeuvre for the piano, in which his prodigious technique could be shown to the greatest advantage. His many didactical works, the Etudes, are daily fare for every aspiring young pianist, cruel but nourishing!
Czerny’s Op.856 contains 48 Preludes and Fugues in all major and minor keys. The interest that Czerny nurtured for the fugue, especially regarding the piano, unquestionably derived from his familiarity with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection that was widely admired at the time and closely studied by the youthful Carl during the period of his early lessons with his father, himself a pianist and teacher. The importance that Czerny attributed to a genre that was actually beginning to lose favor among audiences also relates to the fact that the Well-Tempered Clavier had likewise been fundamental for Beethoven, who was shortly to become Czerny’s teacher and in due course also his friend.
The Preludes and Fugues are the Romantic’s answer to an obsolete form, imbuing the formal counterpoint with many new pianistic devices of Czerny’s own invention.
Played on a Pleyel piano from 1853 by Emanuele Delucchi, one of the most remarkable pianists of his generation. He has the technique and style to master these difficult pieces. He made a name with his recordings for Piano Classics of the insanely difficult Chopin Studies by Godowsky, played on a 1906 Steinway D, of which the Gramophone wrote: “Its palette of warm colors remained intact but gained a more incisive attack, allowing Delucchi’s voicing and extraordinary digital facility to be heard at its best…’. “Delucchi is in a class of his own”, Jed Distler of Classicstoday.com wrote: “9/9: every inch a viable contender to the reference versions”.