Rudolf Buchbinder – Soirée de Vienne sounds echoes of the celebrated Austrian pianist’s home city in the form of music closely associated with it. The recording, set for release by Deutsche Grammophon today, on 25 November, captures both the lost world of salon soirées and Vienna’s legendary attitude to life, with its heady blend of intensity and insouciance, earthiness and beauty.
“We all have impossible dreams,” says Buchbinder. “And one such dream gave rise to this album: I’d so much like to attend a Viennese soirée where all the composers on this recording are assembled: Strauss, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann and Beethoven.” His album brings them together in spirit, if not in person, and highlights 19th-century Vienna’s place as one of the world’s most important cultural crucibles. This is a matter of considerable pride for a performer and profound musical thinker who has lived in the city since early childhood, became the youngest ever student at its renowned Akademie für Musik at the age of five, and is an honorary member of the Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft.
His new album opens with Soirée de Vienne, a concert paraphrase of themes from Die Fledermaus and other Johann Strauss works created by Alfred Grünfeld, darling of imperial Vienna’s salon scene. It concludes with Soirées de Vienne: Valse-Caprice No. 6, Liszt’s reworking of melodies by Schubert. “These two pieces,” notes Buchbinder, “embody the spirit of a good evening get-together: inspiring, good-humoured, effervescent, but always probing the depths.”
Also included are characteristically spontaneous and personal interpretations of Schubert’s 4 Impromptus D 899, composed in Vienna in 1827, and a sequence of five pieces by Chopin, including the Waltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No.2, Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor op. 66 and Étude in A flat major Op. 25 No. 1, which the nine-year-old Buchbinder played in the Brahms-Saal of Vienna’s Musikverein in 1955. Chopin visited Vienna twice between 1829 and 1831, staying in the city for eight months on his second visit, which coincided with the Warsaw Uprising in November 1830 and the revolution against Russian rule which it triggered throughout Poland.
Among the remaining works on Rudolf Buchbinder – Soirée de Vienne are Beethoven’s Bagatelle in C major Op. 33 No. 5, first published in Vienna in 1803; pianist-composer Otto Schulhof’s take on Strauss’s Pizzicato Polka; Liebeslied, Liszt’s enchanting transcription of Schumann’s song Widmung; Carl Tausig’s virtuoso arrangement of Schubert’s Marche militaire; and Richard Strauss’s charming version of the same composer’s “Kupelwieser-Walzer”.
“I’ve tried to capture the spirit of the soirée, which is entertaining but never crude, one-dimensional or simplistic,” says Buchbinder. “What distinguishes great art is that it entertains, of course … but also goads us to think and ponder. In this light, I too see myself as an ‘entertainer’, as someone who ‘entertains discussions’, who talks, listens, paraphrases and exchanges ideas. I believe it’s important, precisely in our age, to revive the culture of conversation embodied in the soirée.”
His album is a love song to Vienna and the famous melting-pot of peoples, cultures and ideas it once sustained. That mix is reflected in the citation for the OPUS Klassik Lifetime Achievement Award, which Rudolf Buchbinder received in 2020: “In his work, [he] merges tradition and innovation, faithfulness to the work and freedom, authenticity and cosmopolitanism.”