This trilogy represents a breath of fresh air and a
delight to hear amongst the repertoire of romantic piano concertos generally.
Only over the last decade has an interest been shown in recording these
works. One good early (1993) recording has appeared in turn on a number
of budget labels from ZYX Classics to VOX with Hamburger Symphoniker
under Köhler and can be used as a benchmark for this Hyperion version.
It is understandable that someone like Mackerras with a deep interest
in the romantic masters would find the recording of these sumptuous
Weber was only basically educated in music by
his father before sending him to Michael Haydn in Salzburg for more
serious study. Weber became an excellent pianist and undertook tours
throughout Germany, His own piano music was of a standard comparable
with that of the great Beethoven and although he could have followed
Mozart as a model, he explored new directions and was equally imaginative
in his compositions such as the ones found here. As the CD notes state,
he took advantage of his gift for pearling runs and athletic leaps,
thirds and sixths, octaves and glissandi. He exploited to the full his
enormous long-fingered hand-stretch of around a twelfth. Thus as the
composer Julius Benedict remembers, "Weber produced the most
startling effects of sonority and possessed the power to elicit an almost
vocal quality of tone."
The First Concerto opens with a bouncy and uplifting
theme that yields interesting elements of surprise. The flow is melodic
and Schubertian in parts yet more progressive. A chamber orchestral
scoring is provided to carry the romantic Adagio, and a lovely dancing
cross-rhythm runs through the Presto finale. One is aware of Mozartian
and Beethovenian characteristics in some of the passages.
The Second Concerto pays homage to Beethoven’s
Emperor Concerto. An admirer of Beethoven, Weber bought a copy
of the score in 1811 and wrote this concerto in the same key a year
later. He likewise includes a partially muted string Adagio in B major
plus a lively galloping closing rondo in 6/8 time. Called ‘a gem’
by Benedict I find this work with its stately opening equally impressive
as Beethoven’s concerto with interesting dialogue between soloist and
orchestra. In the first movement a hint of Invitation to the Dance
appears and as does a passage he must have remembered later when composing
Der Freischütz. The beautifully composed and lovely Rondo:
Presto is played by Demidenko and Mackerras with much panache (tk6).
The Konzertstück is a structured concerto
with four seamless movements. It contains emotive ideas – parting, lament,
misery, consolation, reunion and jubilation. A slow introduction is
followed by a brilliant Allegro passionato (with Adagio
bridge), a heavy-beat march and a lively Presto finale.
Nikolai Demidenko is first rate with his interpretation
and certainly has the edge over Maria Littauer. (I cannot speak in relation
to any other recordings.) His subtle phrasing and enjoyable glissandos
are charming. Both soloist and conductor are well matched and sense
each other’s subtleties. The recording is not as crisp as the spectacular
recently released Saint-Saëns concerto set but the balance is good.
This Hyperion disc was first released in 1994.
The adequate notes are provided in English, French
and German with a focus more on the pieces than the composer’s background.
Raymond J Walker
Romantic Piano Concerto Series