At first I set aside Peter Schaaf’s CD of Schubert/Brahms/Dvořák/Ravel waltzes in order to give some quality time to family and the holidays.
But now, saturated with Christmas Carols and presents and parties and too many treats, I long for the simpler joys of listening to the purity of Peter Schaaf’s elegant playing of 44 Waltzes on 88 keys, a CD featuring Franz Schubert’s Valses Nobles, D 969; Johannes Brahms’ Waltzes, Op. 39; Antonin Dvořák’s Waltzes, Op. 54; and Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales.
By the time of the writing of his Valses Nobles, D 969, and after completing the emotionally-depleting composition of Winterreise in or around 1827, the year before his untimely death, the composer was whooping it up in Vienna, playing in salons and parties and Schubertiades and for just about any venue that could bring in some much-needed income to supplement the underpaid residuals he got for the published versions of his compositions.
With Schubert himself at the keyboard, these waltzes, whether noble or sentimental were just the ticket at social gatherings where dancing and drinking and smoking and running upstairs or going home with a young lady one had just met was absolutely acceptable.
Schubert’s waltzes were meant for dancing and carousing, not for the stiffness of the concert hall, and Peter Schaaf treats them with care for their value as perfect salon pieces and with unfettered energy.
Brahms’ waltzes, were cleverly dedicated by the composer to Edward Hanslick, the Austrian critic who could make or break a composer’s career with a stroke of his pen.
Already an eminence grise in his mid-thirties, Brahms could write a set of waltzes, hear them played by Clara Schumann the next day, and see them published by Simrock a month later.
There was no struggle, no angst, no wondering when the next gig or fee would be coming. And the music of Brahms’ opus 39 reflects this carefree Lebensfreude from start to finish, which Peter Schaaf mines it for all its worth.
Unlike Schubert’ and Brahms’ less-than-one-minute-long waltzes, Antonin Dvořák’s Waltzes, Op. 54 shun the Ländler roots of most if not all Viennese and German waltz and expand the form into more substantial musical episodes, two, three and four minutes in length.
They do reveal strong Bohemian folk roots, boldly going off-tempo and defying anyone who dares dance to them to keep up with the ever lively accelerando and capricious ritardando changes. Dvořák’s waltzes are high in charm and verve, and Peter Schaaf plays them with a lovely mix of sentiment and lightness.
Seventy-two minutes of music in ¾ time could tax the patience of the best of listeners. Luckily Peter Schaaf’s apposite programming permits one to put on hold the last eight tracks of this CD or, even better, to pour oneself a nice glass of French wine and cleanse one’s musical palate by continuing one’s listening session with the 20th century brittleness and vibrancy of Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales played to the hilt by our pianist.
After having listened to and reviewed another CD by the superb pianist Peter Schaaf, I now find myself listening to a second album of his over and over again.
Rafael de Acha
44 Waltzes on 88 keys is available from www/peterschaaf.com,