A small and enthusiastic following exists for the late nineteenth century composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg, but it's hard to call the handful of recordings of his music made since the 1990s sufficient for a full-fledged revival. It seems, too, that the greatest interest in Herzogenberg's works is found in Germany, and few artists of international repute have taken up this neglected composer's cause. Anthony Goldstone's and Caroline Clemmow's 2005 release on Toccata Classics provides a rare sample of Herzogenberg's output for piano duet and solo piano, and four of the works receive their world premieres here. Yet for all the hype surrounding this album, it seems lightweight and less of a revelation than its promoters claim. Much has been made of Herzogenberg's affinity for the music of Schumann and Brahms, and there are more than superficial resemblances to the former in the Theme and Variations, Op. 13, and obvious mimicry of the latter in the Variations on a Theme of Brahms, Op. 23. However, such ready comparisons to one's contemporaries are usually regarded as a sign of weakness, since an independent identity is what we seek in great composers, and anything less usually indicates mediocrity. Herzogenberg is better than that, certainly in terms of his craft and invention; but his reliance on the styles and techniques of two famous masters puts him at a disadvantage. We hear these works as clever copies, or as curiosities, but always with an ear to whom Herzogenberg is emulating, without getting much of a sense of his own originality. One hopes that such a quirky suite as Allotria, Op. 33, Book I might reveal glimpses of an odd personality, or that the Waltzes, Op. 53, might be light and frothy enough to resemble no one in particular. Yet even here, and despite occasional passages of ingenuity, Herzogenberg's imitations are apparent and frustratingly slavish. Unless one feels that Schumann and Brahms did not write enough music of their own and that a clone is needed, this disc will be a bit of a letdown. Goldstone and Clemmow deliver entertaining performances that are also heartfelt, and Toccata has served up a fine production with pleasantly resonant sound, so the Herzogenberg coterie can at least revel in a fine recording that does him justice.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Theme & Variations, for 2 pianos, Op. 13|
|Allotria (Book 1), for 2 pianos, Op. 33|
|Variations on a Theme of Brahms, for 2 pianos, Op. 23|
|Waltzes, Opus 53|
|Variations on the Minuet from 'Don Giovanni', for piano, Op. 58|
|Capriccio, for piano, Op. 107|