Adolf von Henselt (1814-1889)
Works for Solo Piano
Concert Etudes (12), Op. 2 [31:07]
Poeme d'amour - Andante and Etude in B major, Op. 3 [7:26]
Salon Etudes (12), Op. 5 [40:05]
Piers Lane, piano
Recorded Henry Wood Hall, London, May 2004
Released February 2005
Hyperion CDA67495 [78:38]
Hats off to Hyperion for offering the only disc on the market devoted
to the solo piano music of Adolf von Henselt. A virtuoso in his day,
Henselt is now relegated to the designation of a minor composer of the
same time period as Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin. Henselt, born
in Bavaria, received his musical training in Munich, Weimar, and Vienna.
He also performed and worked extensively in St. Petersburg under the
umbrella of the Tsar's daughter, soaking up and contributing to the
emerging Russian style of pianism.
First thing to make clear is that Henselt is not the equal of a Chopin
or Schumann. Although his melodies are fetching and sometimes compelling,
they certainly do not carry the transcendent qualities of the master
composers of the Romantic era. Also, Henselt's emotional and architectural
breadth is not in the same league. However, his piano music does compare
well with that of Balakirev and other composers of the 2nd tier.
The disc at hand well reveals Henselt's technical skills and fine artistry.
Taking the Salon and Concert Etudes as a group, we have 24 studies that
cover all the major and minor tones of the chromatic scale with impressive
difficulty, although they are not sequenced in any particular tonal
order. The element of contrast is admirable, and ample variety rests
within each study. I do find the Concert Etudes to present a wider and
more incisive emotional stream than the Salon Etudes, but both sets are
Below are my comments about many of the 24 pieces. I excluded a few to
avoid excessive repetition on my part:
Op. 2 Etudes:
No. 1 in D minor/Allegro molto agitato - Turbulent music having
rolling/galloping bass arpeggios that remind me instantly of Chopin's D
minor Prelude from his famous Op. 28 set. In the middle section, the
gallop switches to the right hand over a bed of powerful descending
No. 2 in D flat major/Allegro moderato - A cascading right hand legato
ushers in a sparkling melody that becomes increasingly rapturous. Very
attractive with sufficient variety.
No. 3 in B minor/Tempo giusto - Descending broken chords from the lower
voice and a dramatic upper melody line make for a bitter/sweet piece
that ends aggressively.
No. 4 in B flat major/Allegretto sostenuto - A poignant 'song without
words', the first section has the melody line in the tenor voice, with
the middle section's melody line is owned by the soprano voice. A lovely
No. 5 in C sharp minor/Tempo giusto - Desperation takes hold in the C
sharp minor which takes shape through inversion; the first section's two
beginning bars in the right hand are inverted in the middle section by
the left hand.
No. 6 in F sharp major/Allegro - Built on a shower of cascading notes
from the upper voice, this is one of Henselt's most delightful piano
No. 7 in D major/Presto animoso - The first section is highlighted by
an ascending and playful figure; the middle section is all drama and
No. 8 in E flat minor/Allegro agitato ed appasionato - Rapturous music
built on ascending and descending triplets.
No. 9 in F major/Allegro - A chordal study with the primary melody first
presented in legato form and then altered to staccato.
No. 11 in E flat major/Allegretto sostenuto ed amoroso - Lovely upper
melody over flowing arpeggios.
No. 12 in B flat minor/Moderato ma con moto, con afflizione - Desperate
ardor and great tension built on a rocking rhythmic pattern.
Op. 5 Etudes:
No. 1 in C minor "Eroica"/Moderato-Presto agitato ed appassionato -
A singing melody from the tenor voice over a constant pair of repeated
chords is taken over by a rapid-fire representation in staccato form.
No. 2 in G major/Allegro brillante - A study of right-hand arpeggios
over demonstrative left-hand chords.
No. 4 in E major/Andante - A beautifully flowing four-part chorale.
Very serene and gives off a wealth of security.
No. 5 in F sharp minor/Con moto appassionato e dolorosa - Chordal study
with right hand melody mirrored inversely by the left hand.
No. 7 in C major/Molto vivace - Highly virtuosic and delicate arpeggios
from the right hand over a three-note figure from the bass.
That does leave one work, the Poeme d'amour, which is a gorgeous 7 1/2
minute tribute to Henselt's bride whom he married in 1837. Although a
piece of dignity and ceremony, it also is entirely heart-felt and does
not outstay its welcome.
Piers Lane does an excellent job of conveying the virtuosity and serious
intent of the composer. Lane's phrasing is supple, and he provides the
tension and beauty inherent in the scores. The sonics are splendid,
possessing a fine richness and well-projected detail.
Don's Conclusions: Not a must-have recording, but the excellent music
and performances mandate a strong recommendation for those who love
Romantic era piano works. If further interested, please note that
Henselt's Piano Concerto is available through the Hyperion Romantic Piano
Concerto series, and there is also an MDG disc devoted to a combination
of his solo piano and chamber music. I doubt that Henselt's discography
will ever be extensive, but his music would represent a worthy addition
to one's music library.
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