After many years of listening to and reviewing classical music on record, there was little chance that I would be unexpectedly and so pleasantly surprised by a collection of Carl Czerny (1791-1857). Czerny is well known to piano students as the composer of routine practice studies and technique development exercises. And nothing beyond that. It has taken a century and a half since his death to find out that Czerny was, in reality, a composer of the first rank who created nearly one thousand significant compositions.
The discovery of the real Czerny started some ten years ago here in Canada, led by the internationally celebrated pianist Anton Kuerti. Like many great discoveries, it was quite by chance that Kuerti came upon the score of a Czerny piano sonata in a music store in Edmonton that was going out of business. He was so impressed that he had to find out if there were other such masterpieces by Czerny. Kuerti’s research revealed that there was “an overwhelming body of extraordinary work in a multitude of genres by Czerny that was totally ignored and forgotten and huge quantities that had never been published or heard.” Included are symphonic compositions, concertos, vocal, chamber and instrumental works. Czerny’s style lies between Schubert and Mendelssohn and while there are overtones of Beethoven (his teacher) his style is original and his own.
The outcome of Kuerti’s discoveries was The World’s First Czerny Music Festival in Edmonton in 2002, during which symphonies, masses, string quartets and quintets, works for piano and strings, songs and miscellaneous chamber works were featured. Some works are astonishing in their complexity such as two Fugatos for string quintet. What a surprise to hear among the songs a setting of Goethe’s Der Erlkönig predating Schubert’s famous version, in which Czerny depicts the terrifying excitement in quite a different manner.
The festival was recorded by the CBC and many of the performances are featured on this Doremi release. The performers include Kuerti, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and many other distinguished pianists and vocalists, all sounding fresh and into the engaging music, much of it receiving a first or second performance ever.
The set of three CDs plays for almost four hours and every second was a joy to hear. The sound is excellent and the 16 page booklet includes informative notes by Kuerti. One can only hope that more Czerny will be unearthed, performed and recorded.