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Scott Noriega
Fanfare, March 2011

CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Variations on La ci darem / Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) 8.572336
Pupils of Chopin - MIKULI, K. / TELLEFSEN, T.D.A. / FILTSCH, C. / GUTMANN, A. (Rutkowski) 8.572344

Naxos here gives us two rather interesting releases, the former showing off the new Polish National Chopin Edition of some of Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra, the latter presenting some of the many students of Chopin, mostly in smaller character pieces, and in genres closely associated with the Polish pianist-composer.

Eldar Nebolsin was born in Uzbekistan in 1974. He eventually went on to study with Dmitri Bashkirov, before garnering international attention after winning the Santander International Piano Competition back in 1992. In addition, he was awarded the Sviatoslav Richter Prize in the International Piano Competition, Moscow, in 2005. He is a name that is new to me, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to hear a bit of what he’s doing right now. He has the kind of virtuosity that is less apparent than other pianists’, because he always seems to be completely in touch, musically, with what he’s doing—and not for the sake of showing off what he can do. He has a fluid sound, and a good lyrical sense—sometimes losing the rhythmic bite, the quirkiness of the rhythms, but always maintaining a beautiful sound. The concerto’s first movement is perfectly paced to bring out the Maestoso character that is asked for in its tempo marking. But again, sometimes the music loses that aforementioned bite and consequently its momentum. The way Nebolsin handles the delicate filigrees of the concerto’s Larghetto, though, is just one example of his good taste in never over-sentimentalizing this music. The Allegretto vivace that follows is equally well done, having an almost eerie, misterioso quality to it from the very beginning of the movement. The pianist shines especially in these latter two. The Mozart Variations—the piece that Schumann was so impressed with that he called Chopin a genius—has never been hugely popular in this century. Nebolsin does a good job of letting the music flow naturally, while keeping the textures of the piano figuration light and airy—not so easy, considering the difficulty of these etude-like variations. Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic provide excellent accompaniment, surging when necessary, supporting at other times, and getting out of the way when the soloist comes to the fore.

The second recording is a fascinating study of some of the numerous personalities who studied with Chopin in his short life. While all of these pieces owe some of their characteristics to Chopin, none quite sound exactly like him, though all of them have their own formidable technical hurdles. The pianist, Hubert Rutkowski, a prizewinner of many competitions and currently professor at the Hamburg Musikhochschule, is well equipped to handle these and then some. The Mikuli etude (Piano Piece No. 8) gives the pianist a perfect opportunity to display his ability to handle rapid yet extremely delicate textures, while the same composer’s Cantinèle (Piano Piece No. 9) allows the pianist to show off his lyrical side. Tellefsen’s compositions have definite charm to them, similar to that of Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, for example, yet not quite as original or interesting as the Norwegian master. Carl Filtsch, a boy of only 15 when he died prematurely, provides some of the most Chopinesque of all these compositions. Perhaps he was too young to fully develop his own personal style, but his ability to copy the sound of his teacher is uncanny; his Impromptu No. 1 reminds one of the sound world of Chopin, yet not as masterly. He must have been one talent for Liszt to say of him, “When this little one begins to tour, I will have to close up shop.” Gutmann, the dedicatee of Chopin’s Scherzo in C♯-Minor, op. 39, was one of the master’s favorite pupils. His works range from the simple, melodic Nocturne in A♭-Major to the brilliant figuration of the Boléro. The music is undistinguished in any significant way, but still it has its own appeal, as does similar salon music of the day.

Both pianists are solid musicians, capable technicians, and both have good taste. The sound on both recordings is excellent, the orchestra particularly vivid and present in the concerted works. The variations are splendid…and Nebolsin gets my vote for one of the best available. The pupils’ works—curiosities though they are—will be more for those interested in little-known 19th-century composers and their music, or for comparative listening.

Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, January 2011

Four names new to the catalogue in music that bears the mark of the master

Polish pianist Hubert Rutkowski has previously given us world-premiere recordings of music by Chopin’s friend and pupil Julian Fontana. There were no lost masterpieces on that occasion and neither are there any among the 22 short works presented here (many do not stray beyond pastiche), but any of the best of them would furnish an encore to keep the piano buffs guessing.

The most celebrated of the four pupils is Karol Mikuli (1819–97), the teacher of Michałowski, Rosenthal and Koczalski (his G minor Polonaise actually quotes Chopin’s F sharp minor Polonaise, Op 44). The seven pieces by the Norwegian Thomas Tellefsen (1823–45) are the most interesting. One of the great wunderkinds of the 19th century (Liszt said he would “have to shut up shop when this little one begins to tour”), Filtsch died in Venice from peritonitis aged 15. If his accomplished Impromptu in G flat is an incestuously close relative of Chopin’s A flat Impromptu, his prophetically titled Das Lebewohl von Venedig is a touching discovery and is beautifully played. Adolph Gutmann (1819–12), to whom Chopin dedicated his C sharp minor Scherzo, has left us with a pleasing, if derivative, Nocturne in A flat, while his Le réveil des oiseaux is a delightful salon dazzler that Moszkowski might have penned. Rutkowski plays with a great deal of charm and poetic sensibility, he has been well recorded and altogether, at a generous 78’50”, his latest visit to the archives is a most attractive bargain.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, January 2011

The quartet of Chopin pupils presented on this disc may or may not be known to you. Certainly Mikuli should be, as he’s the best known, but Tellefsen may also have crossed your musical horizons at some point; the short-lived Filtsch probably only via a semi-celebrated comment from Liszt and Gutmann, I suspect, not at all. Together we have twenty-two pieces of music, all brief, in dance or salon form, all predominantly light; a profusion, in other words, of Polonaises, Barcarolles, Impromptus, Waltzes, Mazurkas and the odd Nocturne and Bolero: a very Chopinesque kind of selection, albeit without sonatas.

Mikuli’s first Op.8 Polonaise brings one up short with its quotation from the rather better known Chopin Polonaise in F sharp minor Op.44, a tribute if ever there was one. Of the ten Piano Pieces Op.24, Hubert Rutkowski has selected the last four and of those four the Eighth, an Etude, is bright and virtuosic, the Ninth, a Cantilène seeks—and here finds—a singing tone, and the final Piece, an Impromptu, offers a mixture of virtuosity and poetry. Tellefsen, or Thomas Dyke Ackland Tellefsen, was Norwegian and met Chopin in 1844, studying with him and becoming his copyist. His Waltz in D flat major is deliberately evocative of Chopin, but it’s the four Mazurkas that show the best side of him compositionally, not least the very charming G minor. The F sharp minor is not especially characterful but has a good sense of contrast and its promotion of a richly singing line is also attractive.

Carl Filtsch was not quite fifteen when he died, having studied with Chopin at 11 for a year and a half. Of him Liszt said ‘When this little one begins to tour, I will have to close up shop.’ His G flat major Impromptu might have been dictated by Chopin on a weaker day, whilst his Romanze is rather Mendelssohnian in orientation. The most intriguing work is Das Lebewohl von Venedig, a sensitively constructed character piece. Adolph Gutmann took lessons from Chopin in Paris and became a favourite pupil in the mid 1830s. He was the dedicatee of Chopin’s Scherzo in C sharp minor Op.39. Gutmann shows considerable charm in his three pieces, and Le Réveil des Oiseaux - Idylle in particular would stand up well on the recital stage today.

To all these pieces the young pianist Hubert Rutkowski brings considerable imagination and a sense of flair and colour that are most attractive. He’s been finely recorded as well. If you fancy hearing Chopin’s compositional lineage distilled through four of his favourite pupils, there can be no better way to do it than here.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, November 2010

What has been glaringly missing in all the Chopin buzz is a concert presenter taking advantage of the anniversary to re-introduce the world to Chopin’s most talented students. Several of them went on to great concert careers (lost in the pre-recording age), write beautiful music for the piano and teach the generation that embodied what people call the Golden Age of the piano.

Young Polish pianist Hubert Rutkowski…who is in his first year as professor at the Musikhochschule in Hamburg, has devoted himself to this cause.

He makes an eloquent case on a new Naxos CD: Pupils of Chopin, featuring a selection of solo piano pieces by Karol Mikuli (1819–1897), who went on to be the teacher of Maurice Rosenthal, Thomas Tellefsen (1823–1874), Adolph Gutmann (1819–1882) and once-upon-a-time child prodigy Carl Filtch, who died from an infection at age 15 in 1845.

You can find all the details, as well as audio samples, here.

Rutkowski plays with a gorgeous combination of lyricism, velvety touch and flawless technique. The disc is a joy from beginning to end.

Each composer brings an interesting twist to the sweet, singing clarity of Chopin’s style: Mikuli’s, Guttman’s and Filtsch’s approaches on the featured pieces are most like a Chopin’s, although Filtsch’s Das Lebewohl von Venedig (Farewell to Venice) and a Romance Without Words make one think of Schubert and Mendelssohn; Tellefsen mixes in an affinity for Baroque styles, especially in La petite mendiante (The Little Beggar Girl), which is a 19th century take on something that François Couperin could have written.

There isn’t a stylistic faux pas in any of the 22 pieces on the disc—either from the composer or performer. The only crime that this music commits is being Not Chopin. Don’t let that stop you from savouring these tasty mid-Romantic bonbons.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

We forget that Chopin, for much of his short life, earned his income as a piano teacher, often to the children of the wealthy aristocrats in Paris. Of his more mature students many had aspirations in the field of composing, though this disc would show they were mostly clones of the Chopin style of writing. The one potential exception was Carl Filtsch, an infant prodigy of such remarkable talent that Liszt said of the six-year-old, ‘When this little one begins to tour, I will have to close up shop’. Chopin taught him briefly as a very young teenager, critics commenting that he was superior to his mentor. He was to die of natural causes at the age of fourteen, leaving behind a small group of works. Not long before his death he wrote an Impromptu in B flat minor that was breaking away from Chopin’s influences and pointed to a composer who would have been of real stature. The remainder of the disc is - more or less - shared between three pupils who were held in high regard by Chopin, particularly his Polish compatriot, Karol Mikuli. He was to help copy Chopin’s music and became immersed in his mentor’s style, and could give a passable impersonation. Here we have two pleasant Polonaises and four of his Ten Piano Pieces. The Norwegian, Thomas Tellefsen, was more prolific, his works including two piano concertos, though from the evidence of this group of four works, he struggled to find memorable material. And finally Adolph Gutmann who became a help and friend of Chopin in his last years. He was modest in his desire to compose, though his Bolero is one of the discs most pleasing scores. Multi-prizewinner, Hubert Rutkowski, does everything possible for the music in good sound.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group