Jeffrey Biegel's 'Grand Romance' has Old-School Charms

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To some, they are Romantic trifles of the sort our grandparents loved: short, salon pieces by Paderewski, Moszkowski, Schütt, Anton Rubinstein and other great virtuosos of the past. But for one concert pianist, they will always be cutting edge.

Jeffrey Biegel, a New York pianist whose eclectic, contrarian sensibility we've highlighted before, has recorded 16 pieces that today are most often played as encores, when the “serious business” of the main recital is over. But this status alone does the music a disservice. Many of these pieces have the honest charms of a bygone era, a time when music had to fit easily onto one side of a 78 rpm disc.

Chief among the salonists was the 19th century virtuoso Moritz Moszkowski, who wrote a large amount of short piano pieces that have come in and out of favor over time. Biegel’s performances of the Caprice espagnol, La Jongleuse and Etincelles ("Sparks"), have a good deal to recommend. There is humor in the writing, the melodies are well crafted and the passagework is in a neo-Liszt-Schumann style.

Other featured composers include Anton Rubinstein, whose Rêve angélique is played with admirable restraint; Ignace Paderewski, whose Nocturne in B-flat has a singing tone and a gracious sentiment; and two languid selections by Eduard Schütt, the Canzonetta in D major and A la bien-aimée. Biegel brings some liberties to the latter waltz tune but never distorts the line.

The album concludes with once-popular Rush Hour in Hong Kong by former WQXR Music Director Abram Chasins. While none of this music pretends to much, it is still capable of exerting an honest, curious sort of appeal, and is likely to be a new experience to many listeners.

"Grand Romance"
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
Steinway & Songs
Available at Arkivmusic.com