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Xaver SCHARWENKA (1850-1924)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 32 (1873) [28.05]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 70 (1864) [31.23]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Michael Stern
rec. 18-19 February 2005, Caird Hall, Dundee
HYPERION CDA 67508 [59.41]


Hyperion’s extensive series of recordings devoted to the literature of ‘The Romantic Piano Concerto’ reaches volume 38 with this issue of works by Scharwenka and Rubinstein. Both pieces rate as worthy of our attention more than a century on, even though they are not as firmly positioned in the repertory as they used to be.

With beautifully balanced sound allowing the full impact of a tutti climax, Hyperion has brought the music to vibrant life. And surely there is no living pianist better able to bring the required vitality and commitment than Marc-André Hamelin, an artist who always seems meticulously prepared at the same time to bring a sense of freshness. He is a true virtuoso, the ideal performer for a project such as this.

The Scharwenka concerto is at its strongest when its urgency is at its height. Thus there is a tendency for the slower music in the first movement, for example (at C 5.00+) to sound like a longueur, even in these accomplished hands. All credit to the members of the BBC Scottish, however, for their distinguished playing, both corporately and individually.

If the Scharwenka Concerto emerges from this experience as ‘a mixed bag’, the Rubinstein is rather more compelling. This Fourth Concerto was played by both Paderewski, Hofmann and Rachmaninov; and the urgent, insistent entry of the soloist would stir the heart of any virtuoso capable of playing the notes. Soon, however, the agenda turns towards poetry, and the musical line is not compromised in the process.

In his admirable booklet note Jeremy Nicholas observes that the first (1889) edition of Grove’s Dictionary described Rubinstein as ‘an eminent composer and one of the greatest pianists the world has ever seen’. It is therefore not so surprising that he wrote eight works for the combination of piano and orchestra, five of them fully-fledged concertos. The Fourth Concerto (1864; revised 1872) is supremely crafted yet spontaneous in flow of development. All credit, therefore, to the efforts of Hamelin and Stern in projecting this impression as the composer would have wished..

The central slow movement has an agitated development at its heart, in which the piano writing is perhaps more effective than ever. Likewise the intensity of the finale is a tribute to the composer’s imagination and his sure technique. He would surely have been delighted with this recorded performance, which brings out so completely the music’s abundant strengths.

Terry Barfoot



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