This is number 7 in the very successful Hyperion Series
‘The Romantic Piano Concerto’ and like the others I have heard it contains
interesting material which is seldom played. I have pondered on why
a ‘Romantic Symphony’ series has not been produced and came to the conclusion
that such a series would be unlikely to produce such fascinating material.
The piano concerto after Beethoven became less of a concertante piece
and more like a ‘battle’ between the piano and the orchestra with which
it does not blend.
The nineteenth and early twentieth century produced
in addition to the normal multiple media composers a whole series of
virtuoso pianists who also composed for the piano and produced material
primarily for use in their concert performances. Liszt was probably
the best known of this type of composer, and Henselt and Alkan are also
good examples. Although some composers produced romantic-orientated
symphonies, in general the symphony is seen as a serious, intellectually-based
work where the composer knew he would be compared with Beethoven. The
contrary is the case for the many romantic piano concertos which are
designed to show of the skill of the pianist and be pleasing to the
audience by the use of catchy tunes.
Henselt was born in Bavaria and became one of the greatest
pianists of the nineteenth century – helped by almost non-stop practice
(however his almost pathological shyness resulted in him seldom playing
in public). He wrote a series of studies which became famous and otherwise
his one Piano Concerto was his most notable piece. All his works are
staggeringly difficult to play, but the Piano Concerto is also very
tuneful and well written – it is vaguely reminiscent of Thalberg.
Marc-André Hamelin is just the right pianist
for this concerto; his technique is outstanding even by today’s high
standards and he plays with verve and commitment. Listening to this
record makes one ask the obvious question "Why is such an enjoyable
and interesting work so neglected?" The same question could also
be asked of his ‘Variations de Concert’ which is the first recording
of this most attractive set of variations on ‘Quand je quittai la Normandie’
from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable.
Whilst Henselt as a composer had nothing to say after
the age of thirty, this was not the case of his almost exact contemporary
Charles-Valentin Morhange (who adopted the surname of ‘Alkan’). All
through his life he composed music of a high standard and often of great
originality. And yet Alkan is now more remembered for the way he died
rather than for his music. Fate can be very cruel! However in the last
few years there have been signs of revival of interest and Marc-André
Hamelin has been one of his protagonists.
The two Alkan Concertos presented here are both short
works, written on a small scale. They are both very pleasant and tuneful.
As usual with Alkan the piano parts present extraordinary technical
difficulties which Hamelin surmounts with apparent ease. This was the
first recording of the first concerto.
This CD deserved to be a success as it presents four
very interesting and enjoyable almost unknown works. Hamelin’s playing
is superb and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins
plays well. The recording is clear and sounds good in a natural acoustic.
As with most of this series, it is attractively presented and it has
very interesting notes by Jeremy Nicholas.
the Romantic Piano Concerto page