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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in E major Op.64 (1823) [25:53]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in C major Op.87 (1826/32) [30:26]
Recollections of Ireland Op.69 (1826) [15:23]
Howard Shelley, piano and conductor
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, Tasmania on 23rd -25th September 2002 (Concertos) and 6th September 2004 (Recollections)
The Romantic Piano Concerto: Volume 36
HYPERION CDA67430 [72:04]

 

I remember many years ago an elderly organist friend of mine playing a piece by Ignaz Moscheles – he had been a pianist of considerable ability. I had invited him round to the house for tea and afterwards he gave an impromptu recital on my upright piano. Included amongst this was the Grande Étude de Concert Op.126. I was seriously impressed at what seemed to me an extremely complex and technically difficult work ... it is. I remember having a quick look round ‘Symphony 1’ and Cuthbertson’s, the two main classical record shops in Glasgow in those days. I found nothing and probably settled for something more popular.

But the name has remained with me all those years; occasionally I have seen some Moscheles piano pieces in a second-hand music shop. My original view of the virtuosity required to master many of these works has never been diminished. A few years after hearing the Étude, I learnt that the composer had written no less than eight piano concertos – along with a number of other concerted works and a Symphony. They became - like many other works by a variety of composers that I will list one day - a desideratum. Now as a result of Hyperion’s industry and Howard Shelley’s artistry we have all but Concerto No.8 on disc.

My first comment will be heretical and is likely to brand me a musical moron. But it happens to be true: I enjoy and relate to these seven concertos - the eighth has not yet been recorded - more than I do to those of Mendelssohn and dare I say it Beethoven. It is not that I do not hold Ludwig’s offerings in the highest regard. I do: I recognise their greatness and their power and their profundity. It is just that somehow Moscheles’ works seem to be more in keeping with my general mood. It is probably the same mental process at work that make me enjoy Gilbert & Sullivan more than Verdi, Wagner or Britten. All three works on this disc are full of melody, piano technique that defies the fingers agility and satisfying forms. I often suspect that Beethoven ‘goes on’ a little bit, but with Moscheles I never feel there is a bar too many or a note out of place. This argument is not about relative genius: it is about enjoyability. And that is equally as important in music as is struggling with a great work that one feels one must appreciate, but does not really enjoy.

Just a few details to put the Ignaz Moscheles into context. He was born in Prague in 1794, but was never a stay-at-home. He studied in Vienna, and after visiting Paris, came as all good men do, to London. He stayed there for over twenty years as a concert pianist, teacher and composer before moving to Leipzig. He lived there until his death in 1870.

Of course I mentioned Beethoven above and it is fair to say that he had a tremendous influence on Moscheles. In fact Mozart was also another key influence. Both of these models are visible at virtually every turn on this disc. However Moscheles is on the cusp between classical and romantic: Liszt, Chopin and Robert Schumann were still to compose their great masterpieces. So Moscheles is more associated with such half forgotten masters as Kalkbrenner, Field and Hummel. For some reason most of these composers from the early part of the nineteenth century seem to have been largely forgotten.

Let’s just write out a small table of dates to help situate these works.

 

Major Piano Concertos

Moscheles Works
1809 Beethoven Emperor    
    1818 No.1
    c1820 No.2 & No.3
    1823 No. 4
    1826 No.5 (begun)
Recollections of Ireland
    1828
Anticipations of Scotland
1829 Chopin No.1 & 2    
1831 Mendelssohn No.1    
    1832 First performance of No.5
    1834 No.6
    1835 No.7
1837 Mendelssohn No.2    
    1838 No.8
1841/5 Schumann A minor    
1849 Liszt No.1 & 2    

The first thing to notice is that both the 4th and the 5th Concerti were largely composed before Chopin set pen to paper on his masterpieces. Yet even the most superficial hearing of these works will reveal that there is a considerable similarity between the two composers’ sound-worlds. And for good measure it is sometimes possible to hear pre-echoes of Schumann too. Yet Moscheles was also looking back. It was only nineteen years after the first performance of the Emperor. So there is obviously a great dependence on Beethoven.

The Fourth Concerto was written at the peak of Moscheles’ career as a touring celebrity pianist. It was written specifically during his third visit to England in 1823. The work received its first performance in London before going on tour in Germany and Austria. And this ‘popular’ mood is well reflected in the amazing writing for his instrument. One minute the music is ‘all over the place,’ ostentatious and showing the pianists prowess to the full. The next moment the composer has pulled a delightful melody as if from nowhere. Then sometimes we feel that jazz was invented eighty years sooner than the history books tell us! And let us never forget that typical Moscheles fingerprint, the Scotch Snap. I think this is a fantastic work. OK, it is fair to admit that it does not break conventions or define new paths in composition. But it is enjoyable, memorable and totally satisfying. There is a perfect balance between virtuosity and lyricism. What more can one demand of a piece of music?

Musicologists divide the composer’s output at this point. This Fourth Concerto is seen as the last of the flamboyant works that emphasise ‘pyrotechnics’ and ‘popular’ melodies. For example the finale of this work makes use of the tune British Grenadiers which is developed in a way that was guaranteed to bring the audience to their feet. The Fifth Concerto is a completely different proposition. Apparently the work was not a raging success at its early performances. It seems that the musical public expected ‘more of the same’. And that is not what Moscheles chose to give them. This work fairly and squarely looks back to Beethoven and even includes a quote from the master’s C minor Concerto (No.3). Once again this was mainly written whilst the composer was residing in London. However the first movement was sketched whilst Moscheles was on holiday in the German countryside. Unfortunately he was soon to be sidetracked by work on the Twenty Four Studies Op.70 and it was to be another five years before the stunningly lovely adagio was written. The last movement and first performance was in 1832.

These is no doubt in my mind that we are dealing with a much more subtle and even sophisticated work here. Certainly the flamboyant solo part is still well to the fore. But there is a reflectiveness, perhaps, that was not evident in the Fourth Concerto. He is no longer playing to the gallery. This is a fine work that repays listening to a few times and allowing ourselves to get to know well.

I just love the Recollections of Ireland. Every note of this short four movement ‘concerto-ette’ is full of fun and poignancy, excitement and reflection. Never for a moment does the technical prowess of the soloist have cause to relax.

The work was allegedly written shortly after the composer's visit to Dublin. His diary has preserved his description of the hair-raising crossing from Holyhead to Kingstown. He wrote that ‘as the storm raged and as sea water hissed into his cabin, he put his faith in an almighty providence and thought calmly of his sleeping wife and baby’. But all was to be well: Moscheles was to see his family again. Henry Roche suggests that this work was written out of gratitude for his survival. However another slightly more prosaic suggestion is that he was in the habit of concluding his Irish recitals with a ‘Fantasy of Irish Airs.’ So perhaps these Recollections were just an extension of this conceit. But I will stick with the former explanation.

These pot-boilers were written to a definite formula. For example the opening movement had to have a long orchestral introduction before the soloist enters in the 'grand manner.' It is all about virtuosity - usually through more and more complex development of material. The succeeding movements explore differing aspects of the Irish folk tradition. For example the slow movement is based on the well known tune The Groves of Blarney. However we know this melody as The Last Rose of Summer nowadays. This is a beautiful rendition of this tune, complete with subtle ornamentation. Soon we are into the allegro based on a Redcoat tune called Garry Owen.

The last movement is interestingly described by Roche as belonging to an Ivesian soundscape- insofar as Moscheles combines most of the tunes he has used in the 'traditionally ebullient conclusion'.

All in all this is an excellent CD. As usual with this Romantic Piano Concerto series the recordings are second to none. Howard Shelley has a great triumph with the presentation of these works. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra takes these concertos to heart and plays them with restraint and in a totally convincing manner. Henry Roche’s programme notes are excellent and tell us all we need to know to fully appreciate these lost treasures.

For those listeners who love good tunes or gorgeous melodies, virtuosic playing and well balanced formal structure this is the CD for them. Of course I would also heartily recommend the other two CDs of Moscheles’ concertos.

One final word. Apparently the Eighth Concerto is missing – at least the orchestral parts and full score have gone adrift. The producer has asked if anyone knows the whereabouts of this material and if so to get in touch P.D.Q. One can only hope and pray that it is hidden in some dark recess of a great library and will soon be discovered. It would be sad if the tides of time prevented us from having the complete set of eight Moscheles Piano Concertos, ‘cos the other seven are fantastic!

John France


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