One only can wonder what Simon Callaghan will turn his attention to next. Whatever it is, I’ll bet his performances will be as rapturous as those on the present CD. Highly recommended.
The emergence of pianist Simon Callaghan on the international music scene in recent years has been a source of particular joy to me. He is an artist of bold yet unostentatious technique, with plenty of taste and savvy to go with it. In 41:4 I had the pleasure of reviewing Callaghan’s performances of piano concertos by the Englishman Roger Sacherverell Coke, whose music is a particular passion of Callaghan’s. I strongly recommend Callaghan’s YouTube video of Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto, filmed in May 2016 at England’s Whittington International Music Festival. Callaghan is accompanied by a fine string quartet in a performance that is both subtle and magical, beautifully recorded and photographed. The present CD of Joseph Rheinberger and Bernhard Scholz is not Callaghan’s first recorded encounter with German Romanticism. With cellist Joseph Barralet, he has recorded a beautiful Brahms CD, including Barralet’s wonderful transcription of all 21 Hungarian Dances for cello and piano.
Rheinberger and Scholz both belong to the more conservative side of German Romanticism. Indeed, Rheinberger was the teacher of Horatio Parker, the Yale professor who attempted to curb his pupil Charles Ives’s more modernistic tendencies. Rheinberger is best remembered today for his two organ concertos and his suite for violin and organ, all of which may be found on a splendid Capriccio CD featuring organist Andreas Juffinger and the fine conductor Hartmut Haenchen. Like another famous composer for organ, Charles Marie Widor, Rheinberger wrote wonderfully fluent and idiomatic music for piano. There is a fine piano quintet, and the First and Third Piano Trios are lovely; all these have been recorded. While the present piano concerto features plenty of bravura writing for the soloist, it is not really a showcase for piano virtuosity. Rather, as with the organ concertos, Rheinberger favors highly chordal writing for the solo instrument that blends in with the orchestral textures to create something more like a symphonic argument. Although a musical conservative, Rheinberger’s overall sound here is loaded with beautiful, luminous touches, a reminder that one of his pupils was Engelbert Humperdinck. More of this aspect in Rheinberger’s oeuvre may be found in his lovely “Florentine Symphony,” the Symphony No. 2—splendidly recorded by conductor Alun Francis. Perhaps the concerto’s most distinctive moment is its slow movement, marked Adagio patetico. It is almost like an operatic intermezzo, with a heartfelt, seamless melodic line and great gravitas.
Bernhard Scholz was a member of the circle that included Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim, and Brahms, whose music he admired and promoted. Like Rheinberger, he composed extensively for organ, but in the piano works here, he gets a particularly lovely sound out of the instrument. The piano concerto is a rambling, agreeable piece, with tunes that are pleasant to hear if not especially distinctive. Some composers are dramatists, some are painters. Scholz is a conversationalist. His concerto leaves you with the feeling that you’ve spent a fulfilling evening with a friend, sharing good wine and good cigars. Its final movement has a delicious Hungarian flavor, like someone sprinkling paprika over sauerbraten. Scholz’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra is a more conventional showpiece for the soloist, although with plenty of touches of the composer’s endearing quirkiness. The young conductor Ben Gernon provides effective accompaniments throughout the program, particularly in the Rheinberger. Veteran engineer Ben Connellan offers very good sound. One only can wonder what Simon Callaghan will turn his attention to next. Whatever it is, I’ll bet his performances will be as rapturous as those on the present CD. Highly recommended.
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