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Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Piano Concerto in B minor Op.3 (1874) [53:56]
Adolf SCHULZ-EVLER (1852-1905)
Russian Rhapsody Op.14 () [11:08]
Ludmil Angelov (piano)
Rzeszow Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Kiradjiev
rec. June 2015, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
The Romantic Piano Concerto - Vol. 68
HYPERION CDA68109 [65:04]

When Hyperion began their Romantic Piano Concerto series 25 years ago, they included on the very first volume (CDA66452) the fairly well known E major concerto by Moszkowski, played in that instance by the superb Piers Lane (review). With this in the background it seems right that the premiere recording of the long lost earlier piano concerto by the same composer should be included in this series, as volume 68.

I first heard of the existence of Moszkowski's 'lost' piano concerto, Op.3 some years ago as it was mentioned on a message board that I used to post on. Being very familiar with the well-known E major Op.59 concerto by this unfairly neglected composer, I was immediately excited to hear his earlier attempt. The full history of the rediscovery and subsequent recording of this concerto are recounted in the excellent liner notes by the always reliable Jeremy Nicholas.

The concerto starts in a fairly sombre way before cheering up around 1:30 in. The orchestral writing is lush and very well done showing that even in this relatively early work, Moszkowski knew how to handle an orchestra. The piano comes in at 2:43 with a quiet statement which later crops up in numerous guises. Throughout the movement, the piano writing is dense and complicated but there are some absolutely lovely slower and quieter interludes in this movement; try 5:00 and 7:00. The predominant influences are probably Schumann, Liszt and perhaps a little bit of Chopin. The latter's influence is very obvious around 9:46 in which the whole writing sounds like a discarded section from one of Chopin’s concertos. However, there is much Lisztian octave work mixed in here too, especially as the piano writing becomes increasingly agitated towards the coda. When the end does come it's rather sudden and unexpected.

The Adagio also starts very quietly and to my ears sounds sonically fairly similar to the one found in the later concerto. It's very evocative and romantic. The first third of the movement is slightly sad-sounding but this atmosphere is dispelled as there is a wonderfully cheerful section around 5:00 with a real ear-worm of a tune which I can’t get out of my head. In this part, there is also a sense of music written to make you smile – and it did me. A slightly Slavic sounding section starts around 7:00 with some interesting string writing and a plodding bass with the woodwinds playing over the top. The movement becomes more florid after this and the writing is spot-on for both piano and orchestra. This is a fantastic movement full of contrasts and interesting themes which are vividly distinctive. The influences here are less prevalent, as if the composer had found his voice.

The third movement is a Scherzo, as it is in the later Op.59 work, and leads in directly from the Adagio by means of a rather clever method: a continuation of the figuration found in the strings at the end of the Adagio. This Scherzo is extremely witty and memorable with some rather amusing trills in the flutes throughout. The piano writing is complex with repeated notes and leaps all over the keyboard. This is more 'smiley' music and I defy anyone listening not to grin while this is playing. This part of the concerto has even more in common with the later concerto than the first two movements of this work as Moszkowski's style had obviously fully crystallised by this point. The slower central part of the Scherzo is again a super piece of writing for piano and orchestra and holds the attention well before the bouncy pizzicato theme returns again to cheer you up. This is really great stuff. The rather serious ending is very interesting with the timpani having the last word — sorry, I meant note — a technique he did not use in the later concerto.

The finale has been criticised online by some people for being too long; it is double the length of the first movement. This starts sedately with some interesting string writing and a dramatic section prior to the occurrence of a rather Russian inflected theme around 1:00 where the tempo increases gradually before the soloist enters rapidly at 1:44. This I another ear-worm section with a driving force, lots of repeated notes and some real power behind it. This is also very much in Moszkowski’s later style with surges of notes from the bass of the piano leading to the tune at the top with the orchestra joining in. Again, Moszkowski’s cheerful and jokey personality shows through here as well as his ability to write memorable tunes. I don’t find this movement too long, there is far too much interesting music here to be bored. The flautists deserves special mention as they had some interesting accompaniment to play at around 6:00, the violins then continue this before the flautists return. The orchestration here is again lush and romantic making it a perfect addition to this series. The theme around 13:00 is another pivotal point in the movement with lots of powerful octaves and some strident writing for solo piano. This is before things settle down to something more peaceful with a solo horn taking the main theme. There are new ideas cropping up all the time here with more mad flurries of notes from the pianist at 16:00 when a speedy new section occurs. This is also Slavic in character. The final orchestral part leading on from this is well orchestrated and the soloist joins in with some nice octaves and descending scales before the movement winds down to the ending. There is a long orchestral section between 17:00 and 19:00 where the soloist has a well-deserved rest before the ending of the movement which to my ears has some echoes of Liszt’s piano concertos.

Having listened to this concerto several times, I find it hard to believe that Moszkowski was so hypercritical of his own work as to dismiss it, which is one of the reasons it was lost for so long. It is also a shame that Moszkowski has become better known for miniatures and “salon” type music as, glancing at his work-list. We do have recordings of his Violin Concerto, music for violin and piano, for piano four hands and piano duet and the orchestral suite From Foreign Lands. Even so, there is an awful lot which hasn’t been recorded. Maybe Ludmil Angelov could be persuaded to record the complete piano music as he clearly is in tune with this particular composer’s idiom?

The final piece on the disc is another first recording, in this case that of the Russian Rhapsody, Op.14 by the one-hit wonder Heinrich Schulz-Evler. There is so little biographical information about this elusive composer that it is difficult to form any sort of picture of him. However, as Mr. Nicholas points out in his notes, he must have been a superb pianist – as anyone who has tried to play the Arabesques on An der schönen blauen Donau will testify. Looking at the entry for him on Wikipedia, this does list some of his other works (as well as their publisher) however I’ve never seen anything besides the aforementioned Blue Danube Arabesques in music shops.

The beginning of the Russian Rhapsody is certainly Russian in mood; the piano enters quietly and dextrously very early on (0:19) after a short orchestral tune. The orchestra returns after this initial delicate flourish. There are then several rather nice florid interludes which alternate between piano and orchestra. We are introduced to some very interesting themes, however they do not to my ears sound especially Russian. The parts where the piano and orchestra play together are nicely balanced and the accompaniment is light, at least at this early stage in the piece. Only at about 4:00 do things pick up and become a little stormier - the tune here on the piano, plus its orchestral backdrop is very memorable. However, this short section lasts less than a minute before another powerful but tension filled section begins. This does sound Russian and meanders along nicely with plenty of difficult piano writing to contend with, all of which is handled splendidly by Ludmil Angelov. The piece almost comes to a stop at 7:30 before another new theme starts up – the whole piece is constructed of themes sewn together rather in the same way as Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy (Fantasie über ungarische Volksmelodien), S123. As Mr Nicholas points out, it’s not a masterpiece but it does have some cracking tunes and splendid piano and orchestral writing. The close of the piece is a stomping march for piano, later added to and amplified with the orchestra joining in. This makes for a brilliant and evocative ending to a much neglected piece by a similarly neglected composer.

The first performance of the Moszkowski Op.3 is also easily located on You-Tube. In that recording, the concerto lasts about a minute less than it does on this disc but I prefer this disc as the music is given more time to breathe. Angelov is a splendid pianist who imparts exactly the right atmosphere to all the music on this disc and the recording is exemplary throughout. The orchestra and conductor are on top form. This is a superb disc of wonderful music which certainly deserves a place in the repertoire and to be a best-seller. Full marks to everyone. As I said for the previous disc which I reviewed in this series (Różycki), this is another splendid romantic piano concerto disc from Hyperion. I would also add that this one will certainly be played over and over again.

Jonathan Welsh



 

 




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