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Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, May 2007

Richard Strauss must have been a fascinating character. In pictures, he looks so staid. But his music had a unique, overt sexuality — scandalous sometimes, considering the times. (Stravinsky shouldn’t get all the credit for bacchanalian frenzy.) Strauss had a special feel for the piano. His songs brim with sensual accompaniments, from sensuous cascades of notes to the most delicate harmonies. Hints of this gift bubble up in piano music he wrote as a very young man. There’s the interlude to his early song cycle “Kramerspiegel” — music so intoxicating that he resurrected it, at the end of his life, as the Moonlight Music in “Capriccio.” And there are the rarely heard student compositions on this disc. Clearly built on Chopin’s Preludes and Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words,” they also betray touches of Strauss’ peculiar passion. It’s fascinating stuff, and Czech-Norwegian pianist Veselka does a great job with it. A beautiful bargain CD.

American Record Guide, April 2007

Glenn Gould's last recording was of these pieces-the Opus 3 Pieces and the Opus 5 Sonata. They have never been played better, and any other recording will be second - rate.

BUT: the Gould recording is part of a Sony two-disc set that will set you back much more than this one will financially. And Mr Veselka is pretty good. He's a Czech who grew up in Norway, which makes him an interesting cross, culturally. His tempos are generally faster than Gould's, but he doesn't slight the music. It comes across very nicely.

You should hear this lovely music, so little known. And here's a way to hear it economically without sacrificing much in the way of interpretation.

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, February 2007

Inevitable that Naxos should get round to Strauss' piano music, I suppose, and it is good to welcome this nicely filled disc. Of big name pianists, only Gould really features - he recorded the Sonata - although it is worth bearing in mind that the very musical Frank Braley made a disc for Harmonia Mundi: currently out of the catalogues.

Written during Strauss's later school years, it should come as no surprise that the figures of Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms loom large here. The first offering, the Op. 3, appears the most derivative. Schumannesque descending accompaniments pervade the initial Andante before a similarly Schumannesque hunter appears on the scene (Allegro vivace scherzando). A Largo provides the most extended movement (7'43), tender and lovely, with a melting middle section. The gently cascading lines of the fourth piece (Allegro molto) lead to a final fugue (Allegro marcatissimo). Veselka is never less than good throughout, but it is possibly his expert delineation of voices that marks this finale as the finest movement.

The Sonata is apparently Strauss's third; there are two earlier essays - from 1877 and 1879. Immediately we are in more identifiably Straussian territory, with a sense of Romantic sweep about it all. Veselka articulates the music well, delivering an eminently musical account. The highlight, though, is the Adagio cantabile - effectively a Lied ohne Worte - with its lovingly projected treble line and a cheeky middle section. The finale again shows Veselka delivering some fine playing - in particular the motivic fragmenting is peculiarly Straussian.

Finally, the Stimmungsbilder - Naxos give the first published English title in brackets, 'Moods and Fancies'. As Keith Anderson in his booklet notes points out, there is plenty of Schumann to be found here. There’s also some Schubert - in the watery second piece, 'An einsamer Quelle'. There is a simply gorgeous flow to the initial 'Auf stillem Waldsepfad'. I would be interested if anyone hears in colours whether they agree with me that there is a distinct 'yellowness' about it! The Intermezzo acts as a gentle Scherzo. After Strauss's essay at a Träumerei (that is the actual title), a final enigmatic 'Heidebild' sits between Schumann and Brahms in expression.

A fascinating disc, well recorded at Potton Hall by Michael Ponder who doubles as Producer and Engineer.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, January 2007

Composed during Strauss' last years as a student, this is music in a conservative style, reflecting the influences of Mendelssohn, Brahms and most significantly, Schumann. It falls pleasantly on the ear, and is given very sympathetic and warm readings by Veselka.

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