Julius Röntgen: Piano Music Vol. 3

JULIUS RÖNTGEN (1855-1932) was a prolific and versatile composer who composed over 600 compositions over the course of his life in every genre of his time, including film music. It was his command of polyphonic writing that encouraged his friend Johannes Brahms to express his hope that Julius Röntgen would be one from the younger generation of composers to carry German music into the future. Julius Röntgen: Sonate in A minor for Solo Piano is published by Nimbus

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Like the first volume in this series Mark Anderson and Nimbus prefer a cross-generational approach to Röntgen’s piano music, combining a work written in his teens with one written 45 years later, and adding an unpublished Sonata in A minor for good measure.

Starting with the 1872 Sonata in A allows one to hear the impression made on the young composer by the music of Schumann. The youthfully strenuous and serious-minded elements of the music – the opening movement principally - are contrasted with an attractively songful element elsewhere, such as in the piquant Scherzo. Building up a Chorale via pizzicato effects in the Adagio, Röntgen proves he can do development with a certain confident brio and though the finale’s too long-winded for its own good, the Sonata shows a high degree of accomplishment from a 17-year-old.

In the middle of the War he turned to a Sonatine in E, one of six he was to compose in 1916: his facility and fecundity knew few impediments. This is fresh-limbed writing, affectionate and unpretentious, but the most characterful moments come in the finale where Röntgen draws on native Dutch dance motifs.

The 1898 Sonata in A minor was never published and exists not in Röntgen’s but a copyist’s hand. Fortunately for inquisitive musicians, Mark Anderson has created, as the notes relate, a modern edition of the Sonata which is available via Nimbus Publishing. This is a four-movement work, opening with tempestuous intensity, cast adrift in a stormy landscape, or maybe seascape as the music evokes rolling waves of sound. Rolled chords introduce the solemn theme and variations second movement, an antique-sounding bardic quality suffusing the musical paragraphs. Whether deft or grand, this is another example of Rontgen’s almost remorseless self-confidence, not least in the fugato-sounding lines or the beautiful lyricism embedded in the music. After a brisk Minuet the finale seems to coalesce the twin influences of Chopin and Brahms. An uneven work it may be, but it is surely too packed full of interesting moments to have been overlooked for so long. It helps to have so idiomatic a performer as Anderson on hand.

Thus, the third volume manages to explore early and mid-period Röntgen, adding a work that must be all-but-unknown except to Anderson and scholars of the composer. Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb-international

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