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Henrique OSWALD (1852-1931)
Piano Concerto in G minor Op. 10 (1886) [30:10]
Alfredo NAPOLEÃO DOS SANTOS (1852-1917)
Piano Concerto No 2 in E flat minor Op. 31 (1880s?) [36:59]
Artur Pizarro (piano)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Martyn Brabbins
rec. October 2013, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales
The Romantic Piano Concerto series - vol. 64
HYPERION CDA67984 [67:09]

While Byzantion has reviewed a Naxos collection of the solo piano music of Brazilian soloist-composer Henrique Oswald I had until now heard nothing of his music; nor for that matter any by the Portuguese Alfredo Napoleão dos Santos. While Oswald saw out the Great War Napoleão dos Santos died in 1917. In a nicely symmetrical reversal in 1868 Oswald left Rio de Janeiro to study in Europe while Napoleão went to Brazil.
 
Courtesy of what is the 64th salvo in Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series and veteran Portuguese pianist Artur Pizarro we hear two of their piano concertos. Martyn Brabbins with the BBCNOW adroitly complete the performer picture, all recorded in the hall which forms part of the Wales Millennium Centre, part of the same waterfront location as the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff.
 
Oswald defies tired expectations with a three-movement work which, rather than blasting us out of our seats, evinces a warm disposition and a sunnily smiling Brahmsian path. It has about it the impress of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto although the first movement does rather boil towards something climactic that it never quite pulls off. The second movement is quietly prepossessing - confident and sensitive in the manner of the Faure Ballade. The finale skitters and glints with all the galloping glitter and wit of the famous Litolff Scherzo or the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto.
 
The useful liner-notes by Nancy Lee Harper tell us that Napoleão performed his 37- minute Second Concerto in a solo piano version and that the première with orchestra took place on 12 February 1941. This was given by Evaristo de Campos Coelho (1903–1988) with whom Pizarro studied as a child. It seems that Pizarro is only the third pianist to play this work.
 
Napoleão No. 2 begins with a Berlioz-eerie Andantino, running just shy of 20 minutes. Once again the composer defies the stereotype of the romantic piano concerto with its atmospherically understated opening flourishes. This is darker than the Oswald but soon serenades us with a pensive Chopin-like melancholy. Here we meet Napoleão the romancing philosopher not the show-case athlete. Only at 17:00 does he begin to remonstrate dramatically with the listener but this is a fleeting passage. In the skipping gem-like central Scherzo we get the sort of Litolff-Saint-Saëns fireworks we know from Oswald's finale. The Allegro threatens to become stormy but soon settles on a more stately, dignified yet decorative drama - bell-like and showily Lisztian but purged of Mephistophelean shadows.
 
The sound is apt to the music and for it we must thank Producer Andrew Keener and Engineers Simon Eadon and Dave Rowell.
 
There you have it: two charming (and sometimes more) romantic piano concertos by composers whose lives seem not to have been ruined or even bruised by having been child prodigies.
 
Rob Barnett
 
Hyperion Romantic Piano Concertos series