Great Commitment and Big Musical Gestures
Röntgen Piano Music 4 (Nimbus Records)
4 stars out of 5
He lives about 7500 kilometres from the Netherlands, but the American pianist Mark Anderson is without doubt the biggest advocate of the piano music of Julius Röntgen (1855-1932), the German-Dutch composer who at the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century made such an impact on the music scene of Amsterdam. Currently, Anderson is recording all of Röntgens piano music, with volume 4 just recently released. A friend, also pianist, from San Francisco of all places advised him to make a study of Röntgen’s music, as Anderson is fond of the music of German Romantics. Röntgen, who received his musical education in Leipzig, clearly had his roots in this tradition.
Why does anyone from Vancouver record the whole oeuvre of this Dutchman? “I find the music of Röntgen very interesting. In his early works you hear the influence of his musical examples Mendelssohn and Schumann, but from the middle of his career he developed a more adventurous style. And in the last twenty years of his life, he occupied himself with Dutch themes and the Dutch culture. Röntgen was also influenced by music from Scandinavia. He was a friend of Grieg and his first wife was the Swedish violinist, Amanda Maier. Whenever I play Röntgen’s music on concerts, people are always surprised about the beauty, the depth of expression and charm. Why don’t we hear this music more often, people ask.”
The answer, Anderson thinks, has to do with the stereotype that exist about this composer: he is called the Dutch Brahms. In this label one hears the prejudice that he has no style of his own. Anderson: “But anyone that looks into his music, immediately sees that Röntgen combined authentic beauty and expressive intensity with outstanding craftmanship. Brahms named him as one of the few of the younger generation with whom he hoped would carry German classical music into the next century.”
Anderson not only took a pianistic task upon him, but also a musicological one. “I was lucky to get in touch with Jurriaan and Julius, two grandsons of Röntgen. They gave me access to the Röntgen archive in the Nederlands Muziek Instituut, the NMI. I spent hours looking into the original manuscripts. Because of that I could record works that were not even published, like the Sonate in A-Minor of 1898 and the Sonate in C-sharp minor of 1928. The latter is on my new recording. At the moment I am waiting for the NMI to send me copies of two of Röntgen’s two pianos works. I will record them with my wife, Michelle Mares, this July.”
He is not even close to finishing the project. “Röntgen composed more than 600 works, a large part of which is written for piano. It is my goal to record as many pieces for solo piano and piano chamber music as possible. This summer I am going to spend a lot of time at the NMI again.”
On part four of his series, just released, are among others three Ballades, an Impromptu and the newly found Sonate in C-sharp minor from 1928. Anderson plays the music with great commitment and big musical gestures. A more polished approach could be possible, but his effort does convince.
~ Translation by Sandra Kooke