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Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1885)
Piano Concerto No 1 in f minor, Op 5 (1829-1831) [24:22]
Piano Concerto No 2 in f sharp minor, Op 69 (1843) [19:55]
Piano Concerto No 3 in A flat major ĎConcerto espressivoí, Op 170 (1874) [31:39]
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Hobart, Tasmania, 14-17 May 2007.† DDD.
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 45
HYPERION CDA 67655 [76:20]
Experience Classicsonline

Iím straying here onto territory normally occupied by colleagues who are both more in love with and more knowledgeable than myself about the Romantic Piano Concerto.† Normally I find myself reviewing Hyperion recordings of medieval, renaissance and baroque repertoire or one of their CDs of 20th-century English music, in all of which areas they excel.† Iím taking up the challenge of a reader who asks why we havenít reviewed this volume in their equally acclaimed concerto series.

If we had a review copy, one of my colleagues must have misplaced it so, for speed, I downloaded the recording from iTunes.† You may be wondering if a download can do justice to the recording, so let me say at once that now that iTunes have upgraded all their recordings to 256kbps they represent a much fairer approximation of the original.† 320k would be better still Ė thatís the base level now for classicsonline, theclassicalshop and passionato; the last two also offer even better lossless recordings, as classicsonline will also be doing soon Ė but I found this download more than acceptable.

Hillerís music hasnít had much of an outing on record: the first and third concertos here receive their first recordings and I donít think thereís even a current rival recording of the second.† Iíd previously only heard his Op.113 KonzertstŁck, on a Vox CD primarily devoted to Henseltís Piano Concerto in f (now part of a 2-CD set, CDX5064), a decent performance of an attractive work but not one that made me think to explore his other compositions.† The second concerto has been recorded before and thereís even a 2-piano reduction of the score available free online Ė follow link.

Hiller was a member of the Berlioz-Liszt-Chopin circle, a friend of Mendelssohn until they fell out over Hillerís appointment as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a friend of the Schumanns and a supporter of Wagnerís music.† Famous in his own time but forgotten within 20 years of his death, he merits only a short entry in the current Oxford Companion to Music, which mentions only one of his works, the opera Die Katakomben, dismissed as Ďan overambitious attempt at German grand operaí.† The Shorter Grove contains an even briefer entry, which refers to the solo piano works which are still in the teaching repertory, making them sound like Czernyís Studies, but with nary a mention of the concertos.

Iím not going to claim that Howard Shelley and Hyperion have rediscovered a neglected genius, but I am grateful to our reader for directing me towards this recording.† I wouldnít quite call it Ďreally marvellousí as s/he does Ė there are too many moments of mere romantic posturing for that Ė but the second concerto in particular is very well worth hearing on those occasions when one doesnít want to be too severely challenged.

In fact, Ďposturingí is not really the right word Ė thereís plenty of bravura but also moments of great delicacy, both of which are very ably presented by Howard Shelley, here both in the solo role and directing the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.† Iíve already praised his Ďtechnical virtuosity and delicacy of touchí in his performances of the Mendelssohn Piano Concertos for Chandos (CHAN2025, An Introduction to Mendelssohn Ė see review); if anything, those qualities are even more in evidence here.

If I say that thereís more of Chopin than of Liszt in these concertos, that isnít meant to imply that Hillerís music is derivative or imitative, merely to indicate the kind of music that it is.† The first concerto was, in fact, composed in Paris at the same time as Chopinís two concertos, so there is bound to be some commonality.† Hillerís second concerto, which followed over a decade later, shows much more originality and the third, three decades later, even more.† I often like to turn on Radio 3 and guess the composer; Iíd be hard put to play the game with any of Hillerís concertos.† There are moments in the second and third concertos where I might have guessed Mendelssohn.† Though he had been a pupil of Hummel, I donít hear anything of Hummel in Hillerís music.† Nor is it much like the Schumann Piano Concerto, though Hiller was the dedicatee of that work.

This is not, then, the music of a Chopin, a Liszt, a Mendelssohn or a Schumann, but it is that of a highly talented composer.† Iím pleased to have got to know these concertos and Iím sure that the performances are unlikely to be bettered.† Shelley is very ably supported by his Tasmanian orchestra and the recording is very good.† Hyperionís notes are of the usual high standard and the booklet is attractively presented Ė it can be downloaded and printed out from their website; iTunes, of course, offer no notes.

Despite my reservations, which I hope I havenít over-emphasised, I played the CD straight through again for enjoyment immediately after listening for the purpose of making notes.† I think itís that second concerto that Iíll be returning to with the greatest pleasure; with the piano entering from the very start, itís not exactly revolutionary Ė Beethoven had already done that Ė but it makes an unconventional and effective opening to an attractive work, which grew on me more every time I heard it.
Brian Wilson


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