EMIL VON SAUER: Twenty Concert Etudes
Emil Georg Konrad Sauer (1862-1942) (later ennobled with the 'von' prefix by the last Austrian Emperor, Charles I), was one of the legendary pianists of the late 19th Century. He studied with Nikolay Rubinstein and later was one of many young pianists to study with Franz Liszt -- although later Sauer said, "I stayed with him only for a few months when he was very old and he couldn't teach me much." Sauer was 76 in 1938 when he made his Paris recording of the two Liszt concertos with Felix Weingartner conducting. These are rather cautious performances, as one might expect. You also can hear his artistry in a live performance recorded October 10, 1940, Schumann's Piano Concerto with Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw -- a grand reading that shows aging fingers. In earlier days Sauer was praised by Busoni, Hofmann, Schnabel, Artur Rubinstein, Horowitz, Mahler and Bartok. Reportedly Sauer had a humorous outlook on life and presented a bit of spectacle when playing...."he lifts his hands sometimes as much as a meter high, turns his head this way and that, looks heavenwards and then, as though it suddenly occurred to him what to play, commences. At the end of each piece he lifts his hands to the skies once more than lets them fall into his lap."
Sauer's works include 2 piano concertos, 2 sonatas and 29 concert studies, 20 of which are included on this recent CD issued in Europe about two ears ago, only now (May 2001) in the U.S. Only one, the first, is actually called "concert-etude," in G-flat; with a playing time of 8:34 it is the longest of all. The others have colorful, imaginative titles (Sighing Breezes, The Hunt, Sirens, Bird Songs etc. with one called "L'Eteuf" (which apparently has something to do with a tennis ball) translated as "fangball." Although all are of extreme difficulty, several are devoted to specific piano techniques, i.e. octaves and trills. All are salon music of the highest order with an abundance of arpeggios and gossamer textures. The sedate center section of Vision, in B minor is quite similar to the central section of Chopin's Scherzo No. 3.
Young Russian pianist Oleg Marshev, winner of many prestigious prizes in the piano competition world, plays Sauer's music with finesse as well as technical assurance. It's a delectable program, best taken in small doses and has been very well recorded. If you have a keen interest in Emil von Saueryou might investigate the superb 3-CD set (Marston 53002) containing his Liszt recordings along with many shorter pieces recorded in the late '20s and '30s when Sauer was in his prime -- a collection that includes two of the concert etudes on the new Danacord recording. A second Marshev is in the works which will include the remaining concert etudes and other Sauer pieces.
R.E.B. (June 2001)