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Unearthing Rare Piano Music Gems in an Idyllic German Town

I recently stumbled across an article on Interlude about a unique summer music festival that centralizes on the performances of rare and lesser-known piano works. Held in a charming, remote seaside town of Husum in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany since 1987, Rarities of Piano Music provides the opportunity for music connoisseurs to discover what other forgotten and overlooked gems that are out there.

After perusing this year's schedule, I was especially pleased to see that my former piano teacher, Antonio Pompa-Baldi, who is a champion of lesser-known works, recently performed there. On his recital program, there were two pieces that caught my attention: Francis Poulenc's, Suite Napoli and Emmanuel Chabrier's Bourrée Fantasque––two works that were unfamiliar to me. After listening, here are some thoughts about both pieces.

For other instrumentalists, the music of Poulenc is beloved and performed frequently on the concert stage. He wrote beautiful sonatas for the flute, oboe and a wonderful trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano. Unfortunately for pianists, his solo works have generally been neglected, which was why this work was particularly appealing to me.

Completed in 1925, Suite Napoli, a three-movement work, was inspired by the composer's visit to Italy. One can hear these particular influences from the opening movement, Barcarolle, a Venetian boat song. I love how Poulenc gives the feeling of perpetual motion and flow with the continuous stream of left hand eighth notes weaving up and down the keyboard. Certainly, one can sense festive and lively moods. The second movement, Nocturne, features exquisite, lyrical melodies throughout. Exotic and occasional clashing harmonies catch my attention throughout. The final movement in this set, Caprice italien, is described by Poulenc as an energetic dance in in the style of Chabrier's Bourrée fantasque. It is energetic, virtuosic, and will surely capture the audience's attention!

Overall, I really like how each movement is short in duration–-giving a small sample, or vignette, of each musical scene. I am considering to add this to my concert repertoire for the future.

After hearing Chabrier's Bourrée Fantasque, it is easy to see how well this piece and the Poulenc pair together. Written about 25 years before Poulenc's work, Bourrée Fantasque is a short virtuosic showpiece that requires the highest demands of the pianist. The great Alfred Cortot stated that this piece was "one of the most exciting and original works in the whole literature of French piano music."

Not only did this piece captivate me with its pianistic acrobatic maneuvers such as the constant repeated notes, but also it features a wide range in tone color and harmonic palette, almost as if you were viewing a diamond from various lightings. Even Chabrier, himself, acknowledged: "I have made you a little piano piece which I think is quite amusing and in which I have counted about 113 different sonorities. Let us see how you will make this one shine! It should be bright and crazy!"

Every year, Rarities of Piano Music is held during the second week of August in Husum. Each concert seems to feature fantastic pianists with intriguing and exciting repertoire––and what better place to have a festival of rare music in a small, remote, picturesque town of Germany?

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