Apostel’s Masterful Piano Miniatures

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

A student of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, Hans Erich Apostel (1901-1972) was a composer who was strongly influenced by visual artists of his time. The piano works presented on this CD specifically take inspiration from the drawings of Oskar Kokoschka and Alfred Kubin. But you don’t need to know that in order to appreciate Apostel’s creativity on its own terms.

The Op. 1 Variations, recorded here for the first time, are generally sparse in texture and packed with the kind of quirky chromatic movement typical of early Ernst Krenek. Apostel’s style emerges fully formed in the 10 piano pieces collectively titled Kubiniana, composed in 1945. For instance, the fourth selection starts off with dour sustained notes in the bass register that suddenly break out into jagged lines darting upward, followed by declamatory repeated phrases and muddy bass rumbles: not a predictable moment in the course of a minute and a half. There’s a caustic march that Berg might have welcomed in Lulu, and a whimsical high-register study that one might describe as the dodecaphonic interloper that snuck into Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives.

Sechzig Schemen Nach Zeichnungen Von Alfred Kubin comprise a continuous half-hour suite of 60 aphoristic character pieces that include marches, tangos, folk-like melodies, enigmatic clouds of clusters, and the like. Despite their brevity, these masterful miniatures flow easily from one to the next in a unified arc.

Thérèse Malengreau’s cultivated pianism serves Apostel’s sound world to a proverbial tee. She commands a luscious tone, a wide dynamic range, and a diverse palette of articulations. Furthermore, Malengreau possesses uncanny rhythmic equilibrium that manifests itself through her sense of timing and spacing. A good example of this can be found in the Marcia Moderato, which is the second of the Kubiania pieces. The attack and release of each phrase is pinpointed with the utmost care and specificity, so much so that you can hear the rests between the notes. In this sense, Steffen Schleiermacher’s interpretation on MDG sounds more generalized by comparison. BIS’s exemplary sonics plus Malengreau’s detailed and scholarly annotations add further value to a release that will readily appeal to those interested in obscure yet worthy and substantial keyboard rarities.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one

  • Thérèse Malengreau (piano)

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