Now, this is an ambitious recording project. Carl Czerny wrote over 1,000 works — a substantial portion for solo piano. If you still collect CDs, you might want to clear a shelf for this series.

Volume one features five works, only one an entirely original Czerny composition. Variations, fantasies, and impromptus based on existing melodies were extremely popular in the early 1800s.

The album opens with L’Écho des Alpes Suisses, Livre 2, published in 1838. No. 1, Introduction & Variations brillantes sur l’air suisse Alles liebt Tout aime, Op. 428 follows a traditional theme and variations structure.

No. 2, Impromptu brillants sur un thème national Suisse, Op. 429 has a freer structure, and lets Czerny develop the theme in interesting and unexpected ways.

The 1844 Fantaisie sur des Mélodies de Beethoven, Op. 752 is based on “Gedenke mein!”, a short song. Czerny studied with Beethoven, and was the soloist for the premiere of the “Emporer Concerto.” He takes this modest little tune and develops it into a powerful pianistic tour-de-force — much as Beethoven did with Diabelli’s theme.

The Impromptu sentimental sur le thème ‘O nume benefico’ de l’opéra La Gazza ladra, de Rossini, Op. 523 benefits greatly from the quality of the source material. Czerny has a lot to work with, and he makes the most of it.

The solo original work, Hommage aux Dames, Op. 136 is actually the slightest on the album. It’s a simple little Biedermeier confection.

Pianist Jingshu Zhao plays with remarkable precision and sensitivity. Her considerable technique is always in service to the music. We hear Rossini’s melody sing out through the cloud of notes surrounding it. Beethoven’s tune thunders with portent. The Swiss melodies exude charm.

I’m impressed — and ready for the next of hopefully many volumes.

Carl Czerny: Piano Music, Volume One
Jinghu Zhao, piano
Toccata Classics