An excellent sound... well thought out programme
Rough translation by Simon Callaghan:
We start with one of my favourite labels, the English label, Hyperion Records. And as you can see, it's a CD from the famous series, The Romantic Piano Concerto. I will tell you more about this CD, its programme: so two composers you certainly know very little, if at all, Rheinberger and Scholz. First a little general point: this is the 76th issue of this incredible series - very soon I will prepare a video to present this series with a little on all the numbers, what are the best numbers, what is the value of this series which is really exceptional if you do not know it - I recommend you to take an interest in it. On this CD we can already say that it has an excellent sound - this is very common at Hyperion - the programme is very interesting and very original. We have at the piano Simon Callaghan who was already in number 73: that I will tell you about it in a next video which was... not the best number but a good number with a completely unknown composer, Coke, which thus allowed one to discover news works: very interesting. He is accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ben Gernon.
So first we will focus on Josef Rheinberger and his concerto opus 94. Rheinberger was born in 1839, that is to say the generation of Tchaikovsky. His concerto is interesting because it came out about the same time as Tchaikovsky's first concerto. Here we find a very beautiful, very beautiful concerto from a master of counterpoint (since Rheinberger had a passion for counterpoint and composed a lot with this technique). He also composed a lot of works for organ that lends itself very well to this technique. He loved Bach, he composed a lot of works, and today there are about 75 recorded works and I have listened to all of them; I recommend this, it's very informative and very interesting.
What about this concerto? It is a concerto on the classical general form in three movements (there is nothing to say about this). It is a fairly powerful style that is typical of the time, though, in Tchaikovsky's concerto for example. It's a very powerful piano part, so we're familiar with it in very lyrical passages, so also like Tchaikovsky, so it's really typical of Scharwenka's concertos too.
This is not a world premiere since there were already two versions; one by Adrian Ruiz and one by Michael Ponti. Michael Ponti is a very great pianist, I will have to talk to you about him on the channel since he has released some works from many composers, many exciting works, and Adrian Ruiz also makes his interpretation that is very interesting to have a point of comparison.
When we compare the three versions, the Callaghan version exceeds them in the slow movement. And for a reason of their technique first, it's the best sound. Michael Ponti has rarely benefited from good sound, and has rarely enjoyed an orchestra really at his level of preparation. So here Callaghan is in perfect conditions. Then in relation to Adrian Ruiz we will not speak: he has a much lighter touch than those who are much better at the slow movement.
Another very interesting point to note is that it is not a concerto that could be qualified as pianistic. That is to say that it is not the piano that eats all the attention, for example in Chopin you really have the piano that occupies the space and the orchestra which is really behind. Here there is really a balance, there is really a search for fusion between the orchestra and the piano and it is also typical of the time of this research, to propose a concerto as a whole, and to propose to the what we call at that time symphonic concertos.
The last movement is very good, very virtuosic but it is true that there are no outstanding themes, which we can perhaps blame, but it's still quite monumental third movement, interesting enough on a harmonic level even if there is no melody that remains in the head.
To conclude about Josef Rheinberger's concerto, opus 94, there are three influences; Bach, as very often in Rheinberger, Beethoven and Schumann.
We now go to someone very little known, certainly you may have never heard from him: Bernhard Scholz. About the same generation, and here I greet Hyperion once again or at least the one who designed the program, it may be Callaghan himself, since it's really very well thought out: two composers of the same period and even at the geographical level, also close.
So it's interesting to associate. To present Bernard Scholz: he was a teacher, a conductor and a composer who was a member of the musical circle of Brahms especially, who was the leader, but which was also composed of Clara Schumann, the wife of Robert Schumann, and Josef Joachim, the famous violinist and composer. And Bernhard Scholz co-signed with Brahms and with Joachim a pamphlet against the music of the future, thus defended by Wagner and also by Franz Liszt. So he was really at the heart of the respect of the tradition of a continuity with Brahms, we will say revolutionaries of that time, which was defended by Wagner and Liszt. Bernhard Scholz, he still produced almost hundred of opuses in all genres plus twenty works without opus number, but it is true that his strong point and where he really stood out was in chamber music. What to say about this concerto… as it is interesting is that already there is much less personality than Rheinberger, there is a little the impression of having already heard it, and on the other hand it not is not in the same category, we are not in the powerful concertos category, we are in a concerto touched much lighter, much swifter, reminiscent of what was done in the previous generation with Mendelssohn concertos for example.
So it's true that virtuosity has an important part in this concerto, but it's not at the expense of the really musical stuff, so it's really interesting to listen to the virtuoso features but also to the musical writing. The first movement reminds one of Schumann so you still see a little bit like Rheinberger, they are very well associated, these two concertos... so you have Schumann, it's quite dark in the second movement and it's a very nice contrast with a finale, a third movement that resumes the dance rhythm. So it is a very well composed concerto, very complementary and combines very well with Rheinberger, while proposing another vision of the concerto in the last quarter of the 19th century. Associated with this concerto, because there is not, as you can see just two concertos: there is also a 'Capriccio', so a whim, if you want for piano and orchestra, and here we think of Mendelssohn since the beginning is very reminiscent of Mendelssohn's Capriccio Brillant which is for piano and orchestra too. It is true that the idea, the main theme on which it rest is quite catchy and we have a lot of fun listening to it, even if at a structural level we can regret that the coda arrives a little in a sudden way. We just arrive there: we would have liked a little more preparation for this coda.
Just what the Romantic Piano Concerto series does best: three works unlikely to be encountered in the concert hall, in performances by artists who wholeheartedly—and justifiably—believe in the music. The high expectations of this series are amply realized in volume seventy-six. Watch the trailer here.
Read programme notes here.
Specialist Classical Chart: Best position #2 on 05/07/2018. Weeks in chart: 5