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Edward MacDOWELL (1860-1908)
Piano Concerto No 2 Op.23 (1884-5) [25:47]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat (1848) [18:21]
Piano Concerto No 2 in A (1848) [20:44]
André Watts (piano)
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
Rec. Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas in July 1995
TELARC CD-80429 [65:15]

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When studying in Germany the young MacDowell was apparently encouraged to compose by Liszt and there is some evidence of his influence in the Second Piano Concerto. In 1888 MacDowell returned permanently to the United States. He premièred the work in New York in 1889 alongside the first US performance of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony. In three movements, a short central scherzo is flanked by two larger structures with slow tempo markings. This work is perhaps even more romantic than Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto but is not on the same level of inspiration. Although only 25 minutes long it seems to comfortably outlast the musical material.

Liszt, like Chopin, left us only two piano concertos, both date from relatively early in his career and were a long time in gestation. Both play continuously for around twenty minutes, the first in four sections, the second in six. Grand gestures abound but there are also reflective moments. These well known works have been recorded many times and there is strong competition, notably from Richter, Brendel and Zimmerman.

André Watts came to prominence in the 1970s when at short notice he deputised for Glenn Gould in Liszt’s First Concerto. His playing of both composers is idiomatic and likeable. He is well supported by Andrew Litton who had just been appointed Music Director in Dallas when these recordings were made. These are all decent enough performances if rather low key at times. Certainly the Liszt concertos do not take your breath away as Richter does with his combination of power and finesse in a recording made with Kondrashin and the LSO in 1961.

Telarc have a reputation for refined sound and live up to it here. The disc is rather thinly documented (lacking for example any mention of MacDowell’s First Concerto) and is now offered at mid-price. If the combination of works appeals then this would be a reasonable choice but for many it will fall between two stools. The Liszt concertos are generally more logically coupled with his solo piano works and, for those interested in MacDowell, there are promising looking discs containing both his concertos available on Hyperion and Naxos (see review of both these discs).

In summary, the playing is sympathetic and recorded sound excellent but this does not eclipse stiff competition in the Liszt concertos.

Patrick C Waller

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