Notes and Editorial Reviews
The indefatigable Shelley puts us in his debt again by uncovering these gems
Hyperion’s crusade to dust off long-forgotten classics has resulted in some real gems, quite a few of them, it seems, played by Howard Shelley. This latest is no disappointment. Hiller, a big noise in the 19th century, sets his soloist cruel challenges and Shelley meets them and then some. In the Second Concerto, in particular, he fields both a bravura display of pianistic skill and great delicacy.
-- Gramophone [6/2008]
Piano Concertos: No 1 in f; No 2 in f?; No. 3 in A?,
Howard Shelley (pn); cond; Tasmanian SO
HYPERION 67655 (76:20)
It is hard to believe that we have now reached Hyperion’s 45th volume of Romantic piano concertos, a series like so many of this label’s recordings, that is likely to serve as a benchmark for ages to come. Indeed, it long surpassed its nearest competition on the Vox label years ago. Pianist Howard Shelly, one of the mainstays in this effort, chalks up number nine in this issue, I believe, the others being works by Herz, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles, Bennett, and Bache.
If there is one thing we have learned from all of this, there was a lot more music being written during this age (especially for piano) than we probably realized before. We have also come to understand that our choice of what has survived from this time period is not too far off the mark—though every once in a while we come across what are truly neglected masterpieces, time has pretty thoroughly whittled down the field to those that are most deserving. The Romantic age is a strange one—unlike the Baroque era, where new discoveries of tremendous worth are constantly being made, and even the Classical era to a lesser extent, the Romantic seems to be plagued with a lot of ponderous overwrought exhibitionism and sentimentality that just doesn’t hold up well. This is not to say that there is nothing out there worth reviving—far from it. But the numbers don’t support the efforts in all cases. Though at any one point in time I might very well like to listen to the efforts of any number of the above-mentioned composers, none of the works grab me in the same way as the Tchaikovsky First, Rachmaninoff Second and Third, or even one of the Liszt concertos.
So how does Mr. Hiller show himself? Very well, actually. While I am not about to proclaim these masterpieces, they do acquit themselves well, and I in no way feel the time I have spent with them wasted. Ferdinand Hiller (1811–85) was an amazing talent, and one that was recognized by all of the big-name talents of the Romantic era. His personality was dominating and imposing, and his skills in composing, teaching, and performing accorded him the enviable position of a fully successful and self-supporting musician. But not 20 years after his death, his music had been forgotten.
He was Kapellmeister in Cologne, played an active role in politics, and even founded an orchestra. Although he travelled to Paris to conduct the Italian Orchestra, in the end he remained at Cologne and ended his life there. He thought of himself primarily as a composer, and wrote well over 200 works. However, being a musical conservative (and an expert in the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven), he became increasingly critical of the new schools in Germany, especially Strauss, Liszt, and Wagner, the latter with whom he actually worked with and befriended. But those who opposed this powerful group of composers often got lost in the shuffle, and only a talent like Brahms seemed able to survive it.
Hiller’s concertos are quite ambitious, complex, and sound difficult to bring off, requiring virtuoso playing of the first degree. While his second is generally considered his greatest, I find the 63-year-old’s Third Concerto to be the most interesting, though this should not be taken as disparagement of the other two. The filigree in the slow movement is especially notable, and the themes stand proudly as memorable and original. The other two works each have their advantages, the Second more than the First, but one comes away from these as having heard three remarkable entities that are prime examples of the best writing of the age, if not quite top tier like those of the greatest masters. Schumann for example, thought enough of Hiller to dedicate his own one effort in this genre to the composer, and one can hear echoes of that master all through Hiller’s work.
The Tasmanian Orchestra could be better—there are some moments of indecision and ensemble lapse that a sharper group might have avoided, but generally they play professionally and enthusiastically, and are to be commended, as is Howard Shelly for yet another venture into the musical roads less travelled, and to Hyperion for its customary excellent sound, production values, and hey—No. 45!
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title