Cipriani POTTER (1792-1871)
Symphony No.1 in G minor [24.25]
Introduzione e Rondo (alla militaire) in E flat major for Piano and Orchestra [19.08]
Overture to Cymbelene [15.21]
Claire Huangci (piano)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Howard Griffiths
rec. BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 30 April-2 May 2019
CPO 555 274-2 [59.00]
Everything one reads about Philip Hambly Potter (his godmother added ‘Cipriani’, her own name – and he was nicknamed ‘Little Chip’), a Londoner, suggests a man of considerable modesty, but one who musically had little to be modest about. It is to be hoped that this new CPO release might be the first in a series: the music is original, delightful and consistently interesting.
His modesty seems to have stood in the way of his music becoming widely known. There is confusion about both the numbering and the number of his symphonies. He may have composed several more – perhaps 14 – than the nine that survived. It is not clear even that the numbering matches the chronological order of composition. He did not use the opportunities given by his work as a conductor, as first Professor of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music, or from 1832, as Principal, to promote his own works, thinking them inferior to those of Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven, or preferring to promote the work of his pupils. Yet, after meetings in Vienna in 1817, Beethoven confided to his diary:’Botter sic. (or perhaps ‘Porter’, depending on source and poor handwriting) has visited me several times and seems to me to be a good fellow and have a talent for composition.’ Wagner thought enough of his work to include one of his symphonies in a concert at The Philharmonic Society in 1855.
While Potter wrote no treatise on music, a significant part of his teaching was an emphasis on careful planning and structure of composition. In the works on this CD, that concern for structure is evident: movements have a tightness, a resistance to wandering that is impressive. But this is not in the cause of dry-as-dust formality: rather it is allied to melodic richness, good-hearted humour (very noticeable in the delightful Introduzione e Rondo (alla militaire), with many decidedly unmilitary, cheeky little passages), a delight in catchy tunes, and an extraordinary gift for orchestration, sometimes chamber-like in bringing out solos in woodwinds and brass. An evident question would be to ask what the music is like, but that would suggest perhaps inferior versions of Beethoven, Schubert or Mendelssohn. Though he works with similar orchestration and musical training, his voice is decidedly his own, in each of the three very distinct, and hugely attractive, works on this disc. From the opening bars of Symphony No 1, the ear is beguiled.
Performances are excellent, fleet and affectionate. This repertoire is always likely to be safe in Howard, Griffiths’ hands, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales responds crisply and with evident enthusiasm. The same may be said for Claire Huangci in the piano work.
There is too little of Potter recorded. Highly recommended are Hilary Davan Wetton’s performances of Symphonies 8 and 10 (Unicorn DKP (CD) 9091, with the Milton Keynes Chamber Orchestra, from 1989) and Howard Shelley’s performances of Piano Concertos 2 and 4 (Hyperion CDA68151). More, please.
Previous review: Rob Barnett