Louis-Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833)
Piano concerto no.1 in E major (1811-1813) [21:42]
Piano concerto no.2 in E flat major (1811-1813) [28:08]
Piano concerto no.3 in A major (1811-1813) [23:36]
Piano concerto no.4 in E minor (1811-1813) [15:27]
Angéline Pondepeyre (piano)
Egor Grechisnikov (violin) (concerto no.3)
WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln/Conrad van Alphen
rec. Grösser Sendesaal WDR, 30 August-3 September 2010
TALENT DOM 3811 20+21 [49:50 + 39:03]
This will, I imagine, be the oddest CD cover that I will encounter this year. At first glance the young lady with a parasol seems to bear some resemblance to a Jane Austen type. As such, her image might be pretty appropriate for a couple of discs of music written in the years when Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility were first published. On closer inspection, one doubts very much whether Misses Elizabeth Bennett or Elinor Dashwood would ever have been found relaxing on one of those very modern plastic sun-loungers that are clearly visible on the beach in the background. So what on earth has the cover to do with the music at all?
Fortunately, the music itself is rather less perplexing. In recent years, Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series has offered convincing proof of the classical CD-buying public’s sweet tooth for long-forgotten nineteenth century composers in full-blooded concertante mode. Its remarkable commercial success has, I suspect, encouraged both soloists and other record companies to scour the music libraries for neglected works that might appeal to the same market.
Hérold’s four piano concertos - the first, it seems, written by any French composer and given their world premiere recordings here - are, from a chronological point of view, a pretty early entry in the field. It would be foolish, therefore, to expect to find Romanticism of the later full-throttle variety here. The booklet notes get it just about right - as far as their somewhat idiosyncratic command of English allows - when they describe Hérold as “a “classic” composer, but already “romantic” at some moments” (my emphasis).
The concertos - all written in a concentrated creative burst between 1811 and 1813 - clearly demonstrate that element of transition. Some passages appear to look back towards Mozart, others forward towards Chopin or even, very occasionally, beyond. Unfortunately that leaves Hérold left stranded somewhere in the middle, apparently oblivious of the Zeitgeist; there is little Beethovenian conflict or drama here, even though the Emperor had been completed in 1810. As such, he may be justly accused of failing to display a strongly individual musical personality. That deficiency, allied to the fact that two of the four concertos have no central slow movements, gives the distinct – if, to some extent, unfair - impression that this is essentially inconsequential music that lacks any real profundity or depth.
While it may be hard to argue against that assessment, soloist Angeline Pondepeyre and South African conductor Conrad van Alphen are clearly intent on making a strong case for the concertos as melodically enjoyable romps. In that, they are eminently successful, performing these unfamiliar scores confidently and with a self-evident appreciation for the composer’s musical idiom. The Cologne orchestra is fully up to its task and makes a very positive contribution whenever Hérold gives it its head: sample, for instance, the dramatic orchestral introduction to the second concerto or a later very dramatic passage in the same opening movement between about 10:15 and 11:30. I must also give credit to violinist Egor Grechisnikov who gives, in the third concerto’s slow movement, a winning account of a singing violin obbligato that beautifully complements the solo piano line; it is a pity that some inexcusably poor proof-reading manages to spell this fine player’s name in two different ways. The open and clear recording, with piano and orchestra well balanced, places the performance in a flattering acoustic setting.
My only grouch - apart from the cover artwork - is playing time. One CD plays for less than 50 minutes and the other for less than 40. Surely there was a missed opportunity here to add at least a sampling of Hérold's music for solo piano?
Perhaps, though, now that I come to think of it again, that cover image might not be so inappropriate after all. After all, while I might not want to make a special trip to the concert hall to hear this music again, I can easily imagine an alternative scenario where I am listening to Hérold’s cheerfully exuberant and light-hearted scores while stretched out on a Mediterranean beach sun lounger, with an iPod glued to my ears, a thirst-quenching bottle of cold beer to hand and an attractive young Jane Austen type lady hovering somewhere not too far away.
See also review by Rob Barnett.
Rob Maynard
Cheerfully exuberant and light-hearted scores.