Stefan Veselka

Richard Strauss: Piano Music

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Considering the composer still a teenager when he wrote them, Richard Strauss' Fünf Klavierstücke, Op. 3; the Piano Sonata, Op. 5; and the Stimmungbilder, Op. 9, are incredibly impressive pieces of work. Strongly imagined, confidently executed, and deeply in the German Romantic tradition, they have all the hallmarks of a juvenile genius. But the adjective here makes all the difference. Strauss' imagination is alight but has yet to blaze, his execution is cogent but not yet compelling, and his debt to his forbearers is often all too obvious. Pianist Stefan Veselka, a young virtuoso with a powerful technique and a subtle sensitivity, does everything that can be done to make these superbly composed but ultimately anodyne pieces succeed. When it works, Veselka's Strauss recalls Brahms at his most introverted or Schumann at his most extroverted. When it doesn't work, Veselka's Strauss reminds one of Mendelssohn at his most excitable. While some old-time listeners may reasonably prefer Glenn Gould's passionately eccentric interpretations that have the odd virtue of making the music sound more interesting than it actually is, anyone looking for well-played, straightforward performances of the piano music Strauss wrote before his long series of tone poems and operas, this is the disc to get. Naxos' sound is typical cool, clear, and just a tad distant.

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