Carl Czerny’s piano works have been important studies for a very long time but we know almost nothing of his other compositions. Here we have four works with Czerny following the fashions of the day and making elaborate piano variations based around music from particular operas – in this case, bel canto arias from Bellini’s Norma and ll Pirata, Auber’s Fra Diavolo and Gli Arabi nelle Gallie by Pacini.
They are clearly showpieces, most probably intended to be watched as well as listened to; just the thing to keep the aristocracy entertained after dinner without giving them indigestion. However, to judge by some of the musical flippancy on hand it is clear that even had there been no Beethoven, Czerny may have not amounted to much beyond his splendid piano exercises. Schumann thought his music was rubbish, and said so.
The album ranges from the remarkably trivial (the Norma variations) to the delightful (Fra Diavolo) – the principal theme familiar to me from my early piano exercises as On Yonder Rock Reclining. The most thoughtful piece is the Il Pirata variations and the dullest, those from Gli Arabi.
Czerny was a familiar of Beethoven, which is well and good, except that being around him was almost begging for invisibility – just ask Spohr. Nonetheless, it is useful to hear his more complex compositions well performed by Rosemary Tuck and the ECO under Richard Bonynge.