Callaghan has the technical wherewithal to encompass all its challenges – from big chordal textures to glistening passagework... the supremely gifted Ben Gernon coaxes terrifically colourful playing from the BBC Scottish SO.
I first made the acquaintance of Rheinberger, born six years after Brahms, through his organ sonatas, and it is in that capacity that he’s arguably best known. We’ve now reached Vol 76 in Hyperion’s ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ and it’s a series that continues to surprise and delight. Simon Callaghan (who made such a good job of the concertos by the splendidly named Roger Sacheverell Coke in Vol 73 – 11/17) is undaunted by the demands – technical and musical – confronting him during the course of the disc.
Brahms may have dreaded composing in the shadow of Beethoven but spare a thought for those who composed in the shadow of Brahms. The Rheinberger Concerto sets off in a mood of confident pomp, its chest metaphorically puffed out, and Callaghan has the technical wherewithal to encompass all its challenges – from big chordal textures to glistening passagework – while the supremely gifted Ben Gernon coaxes terrifically colourful playing from the BBC Scottish SO. If it’s not exactly a work abounding in hummable tunes, there’s a strong sense of structure and development (particularly in the first movement), and plenty of opportunities for the piano to duet with members of the orchestra. Rheinberger’s ear for orchestration really comes into its own in the slow movement (which lives up to its Patetico heading) – sample the woodwind interjections from 4'07" of track 2. It breathes the same air as Brahms without being cowed by the comparison. The finale is also beautifully judged, from the striking chordal opening to the unhurried dialogue that unfolds between soloist and orchestra, which gets sidetracked by more skittish writing, to delightful effect. Though we owe a debt to Michael Ponti for making this work’s first recording, it pales in comparison with the new one, especially where the orchestra is concerned.
The remainder of the disc is, frankly, less ear-catching, though that’s certainly not the fault of the performers. Both works here are recording premieres: Scholz’s Capriccio is a harmless makeweight, while the B major Concerto sets off with galumphing rhythms reminiscent of Schumann, though there’s an overdependence here on decorative effect. The second movement is built around a Brahmsian-style consoling melody but it’s a pale imitation of the real thing. The most effective movement is the finale, which is suitably sprightly and, like everything else here, most engaging played.
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 realised 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