Virtuosic concert pieces & elegant miniatures: Henselt piano works

If you didn’t know the name of the composer beforehand – and many may not – the opening notes of the first track might have you confidently exclaiming “oh it’s Chopin!” (indeed, Schumann dubbed this composer “the Chopin of the North”). There’s the same ominous tread in the opening as Chopin’s Op 49 Fantasie. And then you might think “it’s Liszt!” on hearing the tumbling virtuosic passages which sparkle under the lightness and precision of Daniel Grimwood’s touch. Other works recall the bittersweet lyricism of Schubert or look forward to the richer textures of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. But this is Adolph Von Henselt, a little known Bavarian-born composer whom Grimwood champions.

Born in 1814, just four years behind Fryderyk Chopin, Adolph von Henselt, music history has unfairly consigned Henselt to the status of an “also-ran”, the poor relation to Chopin and Liszt. Unable to make his name or a living in Germany, Henselt went to teach in St Petersburg, where his influence on Russian pianism was considerable: he taught Zverev, Rachmaninov’s teacher. His music is played more in Russia than anywhere else: I hadn’t heard of him until I became friends with Daniel Grimwood, and when I listened to his music, I wondered why his music has been sidelined for so long.

Organised in the manner of an old-fashioned recital disc, there is much to savour and enjoy in the variety of works explored here. Virtuosic concert pieces sit comfortably alongside elegant miniatures, offering the listener a broad flavour of Henselt’s style and oeuvre. The Nocturnes, Impromptus and Études prove Henselt was every bit a master of these genres as his contemporaries Chopin and Liszt – and he made similar technical and interpretative demands on the pianist too. There are passages of vertiginous virtuosity which appear sweeping and effortless rather than merely showy with Daniel’s acute sense of the scale and pacing of this music. It’s lushly expressive but Daniel’s clarity and delicacy means it is never cloying or too heavily perfumed.

This disc would go into my “lateral listening” recommendations: if you love Chopin, I guarantee you’ll love Henselt just as much.

This is the second of Daniel’s recordings for the Edition Peters label and it has delightful cover artwork by Janet Lynch and comprehensive liner notes. As Daniel himself says of this disc: “It’s my small way of restoring Henselt…..to his rightful place in the repertoire

Highly recommended

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