Praised by experts and admired by the public – Margarita Höhenrieder is an institution in the German-speaking piano scene. On the one hand as an interpreter whose rare concerts are considered outstanding events. On the other hand as a professor in Munich, where she has been passing on her knowledge to highly talented young musicians since 1991.
For her most recent CD project, Margarita Höhenrieder has undertaken a search for the authentic sound of Frédéric Chopin’s music: in his mazurkas and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor. She recorded the works on contemporary Pleyel pianos and thus on instruments from the very factory that Chopin held in the highest esteem of all. The recording of the E minor concerto was made on the basis of the historical score version by Jan Ekier together with the orchestra ‘La Scintilla’, which also played on historical instruments under the baton of Riccardo Minasi.
It is already the second time that Margarita Höhenrieder has dedicated herself to Romantic music by historical playing practice. Her interpretation of piano works by Mr. and Mrs. Schumann received frenetic applause in 2020: “Immediately, as a listener, one is drawn into the intimate atmosphere of the salon, literally sitting in front of the grand piano, which Höhenrieder demands no less than a modern instrument. But nevertheless she knows how to explore the Iyrian strengths and the overtone richness of this instrument grandiosely” (PIANONews). With the virtuosic-romantic Piano Concerto and the artful mazurkas in carefully recreated sound shape, Margarita Höhenrieder now provides new, highly interesting insights into the universe of Chopin.
NO-TE: What was your search for the authentic Chopin sound like?
MH: For years I wondered which instrument from Chopin’s era best reflects Chopin’s poetic music, his enhanced sensitivity, his refinement, and his melancholy. In 1831, Chopin had provided the answer himself, when he wrote in a letter: “Pleyel’s pianos are the non plus ultra”. Ultimately I found my way to Kellinghusen, north of Hamburg, where among Eric Keller’s collection of early keyboard instruments I found an extraordinarily lovely early Pleyel grand and fell in love with it ‘on hearing the first note’ – I was able to immerse myself in a bygone century. This particular fortepiano was built in Paris around 1855 and has been expertly restored using historic materials and methods. It is absolutely structurally identical with the instrument that Frédéric Chopin owned, and has that typical French elegance both in sound and appearance. It reflects the spirit of the Romantic era and provides us with authentic tonal evidence of what an instrument of that time would have produced. I recorded the mazurkas presented here on this instrument. The recording of the E minor Concerto from the historic score version by Jan Ekier was played on another Pleyel of about the same age that was able to match the relatively high tuning of this orchestra (440 Hz) in the superb acoustics of the Oberstrass church in Zurich.
NO-TE: Where did the recording of the mazurkas take place?
MH: In a room, a salon similar to those of the mid-nineteenth century, and not in a modern-day concert hall. The recording location was equally important to me, because after close study of Chopin’s music, I had made the decision, contrary to present-day practice, not to strive to play on ever larger, more versatile instruments or to perform his works at architecturally and acoustically interesting venues.
NO-TE: What does such a historical piano mean for the interpretation?
MH: The touch on a nineteenth-century Pleyel is of course utterly different to that of a modern instrument. One has to approach the highly delicate fortepiano with great sensitivity and awareness. Trills are best played, for instance, if taken just a scintilla slower. To a great extent, I took over the fingering from Chopin’s pupil Carl Mikuli.
Margarita Höhenrieder studied piano with Anna Stadler and Ludwig Hoffmann in Munich as well as with Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, USA. In 1981 she won the 1st prize at the prestigious Ferruccio Busoni Piano Competition in Bolzano. In 1984, she took up a professorship at the Academy for Music in Würzburg and in 1991 succeeded Ludwig Hoffmann at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich. As a soloist, Höhenrieder has performed with conductors Kirill Petrenko, Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, James Levine, Riccardo Chailly, and Fabio Luisi, among others, and with orchestras such as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonics, the New York Philharmonics, the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Her chamber music partners include Julius Berger, Sabine Meyer and Emmanuel Pahud. Recordings have appeared on the RCA, Hänssler and Solo Musica labels and are devoted primarily to the music of Harald Genzmer as well as Mozart, Beethoven and the Romantic period.