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Henrique OSWALD (1852-1931)
Piano Concerto, Op. 10 (1886) [29:54]
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in F minor, Op.103 ‘Egyptian’ (1896) [28:50]
Alberto NEPOMUCENO (1864-1920)
Suite Antiga, Op. 11 (1893) [13:10]
Clťlia Iruzun (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Jac van Steen
rec. 2019, St. John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London

This is the second CD I've reviewed featuring the Brazilian pianist Clťlia Iruzun's exploration of the music of her fellow countryman Henrique Oswald. Last time it was the Piano Quintet, a work I praised for its accessible melodic largesse (review). For those not familiar with this lesser known composer, he was born in Rio de Janiero, of Swiss and Italian parentage. His musical training took place in Florence where he studied piano with Giuseppe Buonamici. He remained in the city for thirty years until his return to Brazil in 1902. His compositional oeuvre consists of orchestral, chamber, choral and short piano works. He imbibed the French Romantics, earning the epithet “the Brazilian Faurť” from Arthur Rubinstein.

The pairing of piano concertos by Oswald and Saint-SaŽns makes very good sense. The two composers met in Brazil on a couple of occasions - 1889 and 1904, each time getting together for a performance of the latter’s Scherzo for Two Pianos, Op. 87. In 1902 Oswald entered a competition organized by the French newspaper Le Figaro, submitting a short piano piece titled Il neige! Both Saint-SaŽns and Faurť were jury members and the piece won first prize by unanimous decision. It's a pity Iruzan didn't include it.

Oswald composed his Piano Concerto around 1886 when he was living in Florence. He dedicated it to his teacher Giuseppe Buonamici. It inhabits the world of lush romanticism. The spirits of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Faurť can be felt along the way. What impresses is the richness of orchestration which very much takes its lead from the German tradition. The composer had met Liszt at about the time of composition and this, in some respects, translates into the virtuosic writing found in the score. After the sweeping gestures of the opener, the second movement is the emotional heart of this prepossessing score, exquisitely drafted and bathed in unalloyed lyricism. The manic finale combines good humour, glee with some Litolff Scherzo and a hint of Saint-SaŽns for good measure.

The Fifth Concerto of Saint-SaŽns bears the title ‘Egyptian’ as it was inspired by a trip the composer took to Luxor. In addition to evoking holidays in exotic climes, it’s shot through with Javanese, Spanish and Middle-eastern influences. Iruzun captures the very essence of this chameleonic score, and her achievement of a panoply of colours and radiant hues adds mightily to the allure of this compelling performance. Like the Oswald, it brims over with luscious melody. The composer was a superb pianist, and the solo part is well-constructed and demands a formidable technique. This it gets under the capable fingers of Iruzun, with Jac van Steen sensitive to every nuance and inflection along the way.

Iruzun turns to the Brazilian composer Alberto Nepomuceno for a delightful filler for solo piano, the four-movement Suite Antiga. The work is modeled on Grieg’s Holberg Suite from which he borrowed the title Suite in the Old Style, as well as the names of three of the movements. The work begins with an innocuous and pleasing Prelude. Two Minuets follow. The third movement is a wistful Air which has a Baroque feel to it in the chordal accompaniment. An animated, upbeat Rigaudon calls time.

The recording quality throughout is top notch, and this includes the excellent balance struck between the piano and orchestra. Gavin Dixon’s informative annotations are excellent and informative.

Stephen Greenbank

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