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Johann Baptist CRAMER (1771-1858)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in C major, op. 38 (1804) [29:16]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in C minor, op. 48 (1807) [31:36]
London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. 2018, St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London
The Classical Piano Concerto series
HYPERION CDA68270 [60:52]

It has been quite some time between drinks for Howard Shelley and Johann Baptist Cramer; more than fifteen years since he recorded three other concertos (2, 7 & 8) with the same orchestra for Chandos (review). Looking back at Christopher Fifield’s 2002 review of this, I was amused to find that even back then, he described Howard Shelley as “indefatigable”, an adjective that I had already set aside for the summary line of this review.

Cramer was born in Mannheim into a musical family, but moved to London with his family when young. It was here that he was taught keyboard by Muzio Clementi, and developed into a renowned soloist, performing through Europe in his late teens. He was admired by Beethoven, though it is unlikely that they ever met. He wrote nine piano concertos; an admittedly brief search suggests that the two recordings by Howard Shelley of five of them are the only currently available versions.

Howard Shelley is a reliable and untiring guide through the byways of classical and romantic era piano music. His dedication to learning new works is quite remarkable, especially given the unlikelihood that he would be able to programme such pieces in concert (except perhaps as “rehearsals” for recordings). His performances here are elegant and refined, as they always are, but I have a desire for a little more verve in places to push through the smoothness. This is a response I have always had to Shelley’s playing, and I freely admit that it must be my problem, based on most other comments I have read. Cramer was one of the early pianist-composers, along with Hummel, Field and Kalkbrenner, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a little more. The opening movement of the C major concerto is marked Allegro con brio (which cannot help but bring to mind Beethoven’s 5th symphony) but I hear reserve rather than spirit and energy. No qualms with the slow movements which are quite lovely; Cramer’s capacity for melody is considerable. The closing Rondos seem to hark back to Mozart rather than forward. Of the two concertos, the minor key 5th is the more interesting.

Sound quality is as one would expect, and while the booklet notes are shorter (under three pages) than is often the case for this label, they provide all the information that you need.

If you are collecting this series, then you won’t really need encouragement from me to purchase. It will be exactly as you would expect, but perhaps a little disappointingly, no more than that.

David Barker

Previous review: Marc Rochester

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