The practice of adapting contemporary music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was aimed at making well-known works playable at home. The piano and the harmonium, as instruments for domestic music-making, were of the utmost importance. But for Karg-Elert, the harmonium, especially the Kunstharmonium, (art harmonium) was a concert instrument and one perfect for use in adaptations. Wagner in particular occupied a prominent place for Karg-Elert an he adapted 30 pieces from Wagner’s operas for these instruments.
Whereas the strengths of the piano, as a hammer or percussion instrument, are based on virtuosity, dexterity and possibilities of different accents, the harmonium is particularly convincing because of an expressivity through sound production by means of free reeds. A variety of timbres, as well as crescendo and decrescendo on sustained tones, are its principal domain.
Karg-Elert’s Wagner transcriptions deserve a position of importance, for his artistic standards go beyond pure adaptation and the orchestral aspect is uniquely shown to advantage, especially in these harmonium-piano duo versions.
“By any standard, then, this is a repertoire curiosity and unlikely to be a best-seller; but any cynicism is soon dispelled, first by the sensitive, accomplished musicianship of Jan Hennig and Ernst Breidenbach, and secondly because the two instruments blend together so surprisingly well... Hennig and Breidenbach are a seasoned, empathetic duo and their performances have been meticulously prepared.” Gramophone
“When this recital of Wagner transcriptions played by Jan Hennig and Ernst Breidenbach dropped onto my desk this week, I listened initially out of curiosity then with increasing delight at Karg-Elert's ingenuity … definitely not your average Wagner recital and a fascinating reminder of early 20th century home entertainment.” CD review