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Ignaz MOSCHELES (1794-1870)
Piano Concertos - Volume 1
Piano Concerto No. 4 in E major, op.64 (1823) [29:03]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, op.56 (c.1822) [31:30]
Ian Hobson (piano & conductor)
Sinfonia da Camera
rec. Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA, 14 December 1998; 13 January 1999. DDD
ZEPHYR Z116-99 [60:42]
Experience Classicsonline

Prague-born Ignaz Moscheles, widely regarded by contemporaries as the greatest virtuoso pianist of the 1820s, wrote eight piano concertos in an era when the form was developing by leaps and bounds from the model established by Mozart.

The growth of the Romantic movement in all fields of the arts - and simultaneous developments in piano construction - both encouraged composers to explore new techniques with the form and offered them the means of doing so.

Thus, in the course of writing his concertos between 1818 and 1838, Moscheles can be seen gradually freeing himself from the structural straitjacket of the strictly classical model. He was, by the 1830s, composing with far more freedom, flexibility and imagination, even appending Romantic titles to his last three concertos: the Fantastique, the Pathétique and the Pastorale, though the last is sadly lost.

The Hyperion label's decision to include all the early concertos - recorded by Howard Shelley as both soloist and conductor of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra - in its Romantic Piano Concerto series ought thus to be rather questionable, although it is, of course, still interesting to follow Moscheles's relationship to the Zeitgeist and to his contemporaries and to chart his development as a composer.

Certainly, there is nothing in the two concertos on the disc under consideration that would frighten the horses. Even though the Emperor concerto was more than a decade old when he was composing, Moscheles was clearly no Beethoven.

He was clearly no Chopin either, being apparently unable to resist putting an excess of fussy detail in his adagio movements and so failing to achieve the limpid purity and simplicity that the Polish composer so successfully attains.

These are both, though, very well constructed, tuneful and engaging works that were understandably popular with contemporary concert-goers in search of an undemanding evening's entertainment. As with many other composers at that time - not least Beethoven himself - Moscheles attempted to ingratiate himself even further with those audiences by working popular and easily recognisable melodies into his own work. Thus, the fourth concerto's last movement gives, at some length, the full virtuoso concertante treatment to the well known regimental quick march The British Grenadiers, a tune that Moscheles no doubt got to know when living in London for 21 years following his 1825 marriage.

Ian Hobson was, of course, winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1981, actually beating Peter Donohoe into sixth place that year, so his credentials are in no doubt. He combines, as required, glittering finger-work and tender sentiment and throughout pays the long-neglected composer his due respect.

Comparison with his rival Howard Shelley, on the Hyperion label, is, I think, instructive - see Jonathan Woolf's review of concerto no.2 at and John France's of concerto no.4.

Both pianists, it seems to me, see Moscheles in different historical perspectives. To Hobson, the composer of the 1820s is still looking back to the Mozart model. Shelley, on the other hand, sees him as far more susceptible to early - if admittedly infrequent and slight - intimations of modernity and emphasises those moments where the music can bear a more Romantic interpretation, so justifying that "romantic piano concerto" tag after all.

Thus, Hobson is, to my ears, more consistently reserved and reticent, though his interpretation is perfectly acceptable and of its era. The gains to be made by Shelley's approach are, though, well demonstrated in, for example, the polonaise finale of the second concerto - well up there with Chopin this time - where his application of a little extra rhythmic and stylistic flexibility brings far more life and interest to the music.

The University of Illinois's Sinfonia da Camera was founded by Ian Hobson himself more than twenty years ago and now describes itself as "the prairie states' premier chamber orchestra". It plays the generally undemanding orchestral part well but is not particularly flattered by a bass-heavy emphasis. The sound on the rival Hyperion discs positively coruscates in comparison.

Enjoyable and interesting music, well performed, but probably not an out-and-out must-have for the CD library!

Rob Maynard


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