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Romantic Piano Concertos Volume 61
Theodor DÖHLER (1814-1856)
Piano Concerto in A major, Op.7 (1836) [28:27]
Alexander DREYSCHOCK (1818-1869)
Morceau de concert in C minor, Op.27 (1845) [16:42]
Salut à Vienne; Rondo brilliant, Op.32 (1846) [10:55]
Howard Shelley (piano and conductor)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
rec. July 2012, Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, Tasmania
HYPERION CDA67950 [56:07]

Alexander Dreyschock has already been represented in this extensive Hyperion series. As far back as volume 21 we heard his Piano Concerto in D minor, but here there is a brace of pieces that cement his reputation - to be fair his reputation is largely exiguous - as something of a dramatic exhibitionist. Yet the 1845 Morceau de concert actually goes rather deeper than that might suggest. It references Beethoven, evoking both the finale of the Ninth Symphony and aspects of the Appassionata sonata along the way in music that is both tempestuous and ruggedly self-assertive. A cello solo leads to less turbulent waters and there’s a slow, melancholy section in which the solo piano earns most plaudits. As so often the orchestral fabric is rather lacking in substance; at points it’s even derisory. But even so, with soloist-director Howard Shelley at pains to balance the brass, when they do rouse themselves, so as not to over balance the string section of the Tasmanian Symphony, there is something very likeable and lively about this piece. It has temperament, and it has personality, much like the composer himself, who - this is about the only thing people remember about Dreyschock - spent 12 hours a day for six weeks practising Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, with the left hand in octaves, no less, not single notes. His Salut à Vienne, composed in 1846, is a colourful enough confection, hinting at Schubert perhaps, but even at 11 minutes not really sustaining its length.
 
Theodor Döhler was one of the leading soloists of his day. Heinrich Heine - who wrote that Dreyschock ‘made a hell of a racket’ as a performer - dubbed Döhler a pianist with ‘astonishing finger-fluency, but neither power nor spirit’. He went on to be amusing about the pianist’s white pallor as well. For all that, the white pallor was genuine, and prophetic. He suffered ill health and died young. Döhler was born in Naples in 1814 and died in 1856 in Florence. He studied with Benedict and Czerny amongst others, and made many European tours. His 1836 Piano Concerto in A major is a very public-conscious affair, a glittering Hummel-derived showpiece full of decorative passagework and rococo filigree. It sparkles into a warm second subject and compounds the air of frivolity with an orchestral tapestry that supplies tuttis of no great invention. But he has charm, charm of the Fieldian kind in the slow central movement, a cantilena that goes straight into a genial terpsichorean finale. The fusillading pianism works over an elegance of rhythmic brio. You feel that Döhler hasn’t a care in the world.
 
You also feel that Howard Shelley has expended quite a lot of practice and finger crunching in his endeavours. His panache is remarkable and it’s a feat to keep the orchestra on track, even if that area is hardly of Brahmsian depth. For all the occasional superficialities of some of the writing, there’s no doubting the performers’ commitment and Shelley’s splendid pianism.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Review index: The Romantic Piano Concerto