Heidrun Holtmann

Nachtstücke

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The two discs of this German release, one of a series of interesting concept albums associated with the Klassik Center in the city of Kassel, offer more than "a little night music." The program is the chief attraction, and it's quite original. German pianist Heidrun Holtmann follows the nocturne idea both over time and through its wider manifestations. In her booklet notes she offers a few observations on the long association between music and the atmosphere of night; seemingly pretty commonplace stuff, but the music speaks for itself. The two discs, broadly speaking, are divided into works on disc 1 that helped establish the basic Romantic ideas of the night piece, and those on disc 2 that elaborated those ideas in the twentieth century. What's striking is not the disjunction between the two time periods but the continuities among the works on the program as a whole. Indeed, this disc could serve as exhibit A for an argument stressing the links between modernism and Romanticism. Night, musically speaking, is a time not only for silent communion with nature but also for revelry, for the life of the city, for the awakening of demons, even for seduction. Holtmann's broad definition of night music allows you to hear how these ideas evolved over the century and a quarter between Robert Schumann's Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, and Elis, 3 Nachtstücke, of Heinz Holliger (who is better known as an oboist but obviously has a strong grasp of the pianistic idiom). The "nocturnal revelry" that Schumann identified in the third of his Nachtstücke, Op. 23, grows into the urban scenes of the Nachtstücke from Hindemith's Suite for piano, Op. 26. The Chopin nocturne takes on Impressionsit shades and then American accents in the Three Tone-Pictures, Op. 5, of Charles Tomlinson Griffes, which seem quite fresh in this context. Bartók's "Klange der Nacht" (Sounds of the Night), from Im Freien, has many of its assumptions clarified by the nearby presence of Liszt's La Notte. Holtmann couldn't be called a pianist with a strong personality, but her neutral playing actually fits the ambitions of her program; you don't normally want a "just the music" approach in the Romantic realms under consideration here, but the delicate links among the pieces are nicely brought out. And plenty of pianists have made the room rattle in Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit; the more pixie-like "Scarbo" here is a welcome change. In all, a good choice for anyone from thinkers about Romanticism to buyers looking for music for a soirée.

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