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Friedrich KALKBRENNER (1785-1849)
Piano Concertos: No. 1 in D minor, Op. 61 (1823) [30:39]; No. 4 in A flat, Op. 127 (1835) [28:17]
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Howard Shelley (piano).
rec. Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, Tasmana, 24-27 May 2005. DDD
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Volume 41
HYPERION CDA67535 [59:11]

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Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series is one of the most significant recording ventures in front of the public today. Only Turnabout in the days of LPs attempted anything quite so ambitious, with, of course, Naxos entering the fray today. But the standard of the Hyperion edition has been so high, and it has done so much to showcase both young and established talent, with such exceptional recording quality, that it remains without parallel.

Compliments are extended also to the booklet-note writer, Jeremy Nicholas, for his thoroughness. Kalkbrenner’s eventful life is duly (and interestingly) documented, as is his pianism. Apparently Kalkbrenner told his pupils to read a newspaper while practising technical exercises. Now that’s my kind of teacher. Mind you, that’s probably why I’m writing about music rather than playing it ...

The First Concerto has been recorded once before: Hans Kann in 1973 – not a recording I have heard, alas, and apparently in a truncated version. It is difficult to imagine stauncher advocacy than that displayed by Shelley, however. Throughout the thousands of ‘little notes‘ (the printed page must be black!), Shelley’s articulation is ever reliable, ever clear. His enthusiasm for the music carries all before it, inspiring his Tasmanian orchestra to real heights. String articulation can be a joy in the first movement, and moments of drama are truly dramatic - they could so easily be corny.

There is a lengthy opening tutti in the first movement – so much so that the soloist’s entrance at 3:08 is thrown into high relief. From then on, Shelley weaves his magic so that the most mundane passagework becomes interesting. By the way, his left hand does a more than passable imitation of two horns at around the 11:50 mark!

Jeremy Nicholas’s notes point out that the extended use of the solo instrument’s highest register in the Adagio di molto stemmed from the fact that Kalkbrenner’s own instruments had this extended range. Dreamy and utterly Chopinesque - fantastic right-hand hemidemisemiquavers - this is a highlight of the disc. Finally, an active Rondo contains drastic mood-swings towards the reflective. True, there is some flagging of invention here, but note the similarity of the final bars to the close of Chopin’s E minor Concerto.

The Fourth Concerto here receives its world première recording. Interestingly, the score calls for three trombones: one each of alto, tenor and bass. The piano here enters sooner than expected - within the first minute - and sparkles immediately. Shelley’s treble positively glistens in Kalkbrenner’s bright sunlight. The central Adagio is profoundly calming – this alone justifies the recording. Nicholas’s appraisal of the finale’s themes as ‘vapid‘ is spot-on, but nevertheless Shelley wins one round with his all-encompassing enthusiasm.

Robert Schumann’s dismissal of this work as ‘manufactured pathos and affected profundity‘ seems a little harsh in light of Shelley’s performance. Anyone who revels in exploring the peripheries of the repertoire will enjoy this disc enormously.

Colin Clarke

The Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series


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