If you think Hyperion must be scraping the bottom of the barrel for # 51 in its Romantic Piano Concerto series, you could not be more wrong. There is great delight to be had in hearing the three works at hand by composers well known in their lifetimes but now obscure to almost any concertgoer or non-specialist. To be sure, the superb performances by Howard Shelley ó conducting with great feeling from the keyboard as well ó make the best possible cases for all three.
Wilhelm Taubert was an exact contemporary and colleague of Mendelssohn and Schumann, though he outlived both by many years. His First Piano Concerto, premiered in 1833 with the 22-year-old composer at the keyboard, was lavishly praised by Schumann, though he considered the work indebted to Mendelssohnís First Concerto, published the year before. Indeed, Taubertís piece sounds quite Mendelssohnian, though not specifically like the First Concerto. The first movement, in a sprightly 6/8 time, is full of charm and rhythmic energy, with a romantic figure for horns that opens the movement and returns later. The slow movement begins with a melancholy oboe solo, the tune picked up and expanded by the piano before being passed back to the oboe. The finale opens stormily (very Mendelssohnian) and features a good amount of virtuosic display; surprisingly, the horn theme from the first movement makes a reappearance near the end, though it is quickly absorbed into the texture of the finale.
Taubertís Second Piano Concerto was written a
full forty years later than the First, though it is still far closer to the
sound-world of Mendelssohn and perhaps Chopin and Schumann than, say, Liszt or
Brahms. This concerto opens with a lovely Andante
cantabile that eventually leads to an Allegro
marcato. A solo piano passage leads seamlessly into a graceful Andantino
slow movement, while the more vigorous but still playful finale weaves themes
from the earlier movements. The valuable CD program notes by Stephan D.
Lindemann describe in detail the sophisticated structures of both concertos.
Jacob Rosenhain, two years younger than Taubert,
was likewise a colleague of Mendelssohn and Schumann, but by the early 1840s,
when he wrote his Piano Concerto, he had settled in Paris for what turned out to
be a 30-year sojourn. His contribution to the CD, a little weightier in mood
than either of Taubertís, is a somewhat generic but still enjoyable Romantic
concerto, with a quite poetic slow movement and a challengingly fleet finale.
Again Lindemannís notes point out the various subtleties and felicities of its
Shelley has recorded at least eight previous CDs with the Tasmanian Symphony in the Hyperion series, and as one might expect by now, they collaborate beautifully. It cannot be effortless for soloist and orchestra to play as one in Romantic-Era concertos, but Shelley and his orchestra certainly achieve that goal. Fine sound from Hyperion, with a nice balance of piano and orchestra and overall clarity and warmth, increases oneís sense that these concertos are well worth getting to know.