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Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Piano Concerto in C minor Op.12 (1886) [19.41]
Poëme symphonique in D minor Op.37 (1903) [13.02]
Fantaisie-Ballet in B flat major Op.6 (1885) [11.21]
Scherzo-Caprice in D major Op.25 (1890) [8.08]
Stephen Coombs (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ronald Corp
rec. Caird Hall, Dundee, 16-17 May 2002. DDD
Romantic Piano Concerto series Vol. 34
HYPERION CDA67348 [52.14]


Stephen Coombs magnificently conquers the knuckle-cracking challenges of these fascinating works. They are by no means the insubstantial glitter-merchandise I had expected. True, some of their charm is in their surface dazzle, but there is sentiment here as well.

The Pierné Piano Concerto belongs amongst the glitterati of piano concertos: the five by Palmgren and the five by Saint-Saëns being like-hearted works. Its three movements encompass moods from that of the middle movement of the Tchaikovsky First to a petulant Mephistophelian aggression (as in Totentanz). Think also in terms of the Haydn Wood Piano Concerto, the Holbrooke First Concerto Gwyn-ap-Nudd and the magnificently galloping Saint-Saëns Second Concerto. It stops just short of the romanticism of the Rachmaninov Second Concerto.

After the brocade and brilliance of the Concerto the Poëme Symphonique represents a noticeable gear-change. It stands clear of the merely decorative, being pensive, dream-like and complex in its moods. It draws on the sort of intensity to be found in Bax's Symphonic Variations and Winter Legends (10.19) with an evolution towards sturdy victory in the closing pages. Some nice trumpet playing is to be found in the finale. The work was dedicated to Maria Roger-Miclos who later became the dedicatee of Saint-Saëns' Africa.

Fantaisie-Ballet was Pierné's first work for piano and orchestra. Its dedicatee is the pianist, Caroline Montigny-Rémaury, the sister-in-law of Ambroise Thomas and a friend of Saint-Saëns (she was the dedicatee of Saint-Saëns Wedding Cake Caprice). The work is alive with inventive and pert display and the episodes at 7.10-8.03 (Russian) and 10.10 (Gershwin!) illustrate its vitality.

The Scherzo-Caprice is back to Saint-Saëns territory with the waltz a clear presence. One can see how small a step it was from here to the irresistible sentimentality of Poulenc's Piano Concerto and to Ravel's La Valse.

The performances are not found wanting in any respect. You might bemoan that the BBC Scottish is not the Philadelphia but short of issues about lushness of string tone the sound of the orchestra is fully satisfying.

Stephen Coombs contributes a wide-rangingly informative booklet note reflecting his immersion in the repertoire. I have shamelessly poached from it.

This disc has all the high end attributes of Hyperion's reputation: tireless in its production and exemplary approach.

Rob Barnett


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