Until I came across this enterprising disc from pianist Simon Callaghan on Hyperion, I had never heard of Jean Louis Nicodé. His limited claim to fame seems to be his arranging of the first movement of Chopin’s abandoned third piano concerto. This disc, Ein Liebesleben, seems to be the first ever devoted to Nicodé’s solo piano music and Callaghan gives us three substantial works, Andenken an Robert Schumann – Sechs Phantasiestücke Op.6, Variationene un Fuge über ein Originalthema Op. 18 and Ein Liebesleben – Zehn Poësien Op.22.
If you put the disc on cold, you might think that you have got the wrong composer as Andenken an Robert Schumann (dedicated ‘most respectfully to Frau Dr. Clara Schumann’) is 30 minutes of music evoking that of Robert Schumann.
Ein Liebesleben is a cycle of ten musical poems, each with a Schumannesque title, ‘First meeting’, ‘Song of longing’, ‘Restless love’. Whilst never approaching pastiche, Jean Louis Nicodé ‘s music is full of references, Anton Rubinstein, Schumann, Schubert and Liszt, and it was to Liszt that I kept returning perhaps because that composer’s transcriptions merged his own personality with another composer’s.
The other work on the disc is the variations and fugue on an original theme, the theme is a haunting, elegiac one and the variations are very effective ending with a substantial and somewhat surprising fugue.
Jean Louis Nicodé’s music is delightful, completely unconcerned over its stylistic plurality and highly effectively written for the piano.
The movements of Ein Liebesleben, largely short, flow effortlessly as do the variations and Callaghan plays them all with some style.
This disc is a valuable complement to Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto series, and two of Jean Louis Nicodé’s teachers appear in the series, Theodor Kullak and Friedrich Kiel. Like some of these concertos, this disc reveals that music of late 19th century Germany was not all Wagner and Brahms, there is a charm and lightness here which beguiles even as you are aware deep down that the music might lack earnest substance.