> KULLAK, DREYSCHOCK Piano Concertos [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Theodor KULLAK (1818-1882)
Piano Concerto in C minor Op. 55

Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
Alexander DREYSCHOCK (1818-1869)
Piano Concerto in D minor Op.137

Allegro ma non troppo
Andante con moto
Allegro vivace
Piers Lane (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Niklas Willén
Recorded in City Hall, Glasgow on 3, 4 March 1999
The Romantic Piano Concerto: Volume 21
HYPERION CDA67086 [59.26]


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This is really going down the byways with two composers whose names are barely known, if at all. Kullak’s reputation rests largely as a teacher of, among others, Scharwenka, Moszkowski, Nikolai Rubinstein, Kwast and Reubke, all fine players themselves. Born in Poland he studied in Vienna under Czerny, Nicolai and theoretical studies with Simon Sechter, an eminent trio of masters in their fields. His career path tended to be as a teacher of the aristocracy, no bad move from his bank manager’s perspective, and he also founded a music association and music schools in Berlin. His concerto was composed in Leipzig about 1850 and is a jolly affair with many engaging tunes recalling either arias from a Bellini opera or an Offenbach operetta, though of course the predominant influence is that of Chopin with a splash of Weber here and there. The technical challenges sound awesome in the bravura passages of double octaves, cascading thirds, and plenty of scales and arpeggios.

Born in the same year as Kullak, Dreyschock was from Bohemia and, according to the former, was an even better pianist than Liszt, which was an accolade worth having. In the 1840s he seemed to be everywhere on tour in Europe, giving sensational performances wherever he went, amazing everyone including Cramer who told him he had no left hand but two right hands and Berlioz who praised his fresh, brilliant and energetic talent. Dreyschock’s teacher Tomasek made some rash prophecy that someone one day would be able to play the left-hand of Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ Study in octaves instead of single notes. His pupil’s response was to practise twelve hours a day for six weeks (504 hours) and become that pioneering pianist far earlier than his teacher had expected. Mendelssohn was astonished, Liszt rushed home to practise and managed to sustain his position on top of the pile as a result, while Hans von Bülow surrendered ungraciously with the words ‘a got-up furore, an homme-machine, the personification of a lack of genius’. Until the finale it is not so frothy as the Kullak concerto, yet the earlier movements have a certain degree of depth to it. Initially comes up to expectation in terms of establishing a dramatic mood befitting a minor mode (surprisingly Kullak’s is also but after the opening dramas of C minor recalling those in the same key by Mozart and Beethoven, you would not think so as it bubbles along). There’s Mendelssohn aplenty in Dreyschock and some lovely moments for piano with solo cello.

Piers Lane plays both of them superbly. He is an exceptionally fine pianist and has proved himself utterly at home in this Hyperion series with three other discs already to his name. The BBCSSO are old hands at it too, Niklas Willén their conductor here is not a familiar name to this reviewer, nor does he get a biography in the booklet but nonetheless makes a creditable contribution to the proceedings. If you’re feeling low, just put on the Kullak concerto and you’ll be smiling in no time.

Christopher Fifield

The Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series

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