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The Romantic Piano Concerto Vol 62 - Gounod / Prosseda, Shelley

Gounod / Prosseda / Shelley
Release Date: 11/12/2013 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67975  
Composer:  Charles Gounod
Performer:  Roberto Prosseda
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



GOUNOD Suite concertante in A. Concerto for Pedal Piano in E?. Fantaisie sur l’hymne national russe. Danse roumaine Roberto Prosseda (pedal pn); Howard Shelley, cond; O della Svizzera Italiana HYPERION 67975 (55:56)


Fringe instruments—by which I mean ones that never made it into general use, or faded out of use—hold a fascination for many classical listeners, and students of musical history. The chromatic harpsichord had its day in the mid-17th Read more century, for example, with anywhere between 19 and over 30 keys per octave to account for perfect major thirds. The well-tempered system effectively banished the cembalo cromatico and the archicembalo to museums. Other instruments that became fringe for a while have been fortunate enough to stage a comeback, such as the portative organ and the cornett. But these vanished before the standard concert repertoire was devised, only to appear in concerts devoted to that broad, incredibly diverse world unaccountably gathered under the single term “early music.”


One later instrument that never made it into general use, but persisted on the fringes for a long time, was the non-organ pedal keyboard. For composers who could afford it, owning one meant being able to practice organ works at any time, without the inconvenience of interrupting church services and the potentially life-threatening hazard of having to practice in unheated organ lofts in the winter. We know that Bach owned a pedal harpsichord, and Mozart a pedal fortepiano. Many of these earlier models included a pedal board within the instrument; Schumann had one of these. But as the 19th century progressed, and sonority became an increasingly important element in classical music, a second type of pedal piano emerged, one suited to concert performance. This new version involved placing a second piano underneath a top one, with the pedals attached to its belly for added volume and overtones. It can’t be said this pedal piano ever achieved the status of a public favorite, but there were performers shrewd enough to capitalize on its appearance and sound, and composers who wrote for them.


Lucie Palicot (c. 1860–?), pianist, organist, and composer, realized that her concert career would be greatly improved by concentrating on pedal piano works, instead of going head-to-head with the horde of other concert pianists of her day. (As one commentator noted, it didn’t hurt either that a constant recourse to the pedal keyboard required a knee-length skirt, in place of the voluminous dresses usual at the time.) She actively canvassed for works from celebrated musicians, and charmed Gounod, who referred to her in letters to his wife as “mon petite Palicote” ( sic ). This resulted in several works during the 1880s. All those that survive are presented on this album.


The 1886 Suite concertante is actually longer than the Concerto of 1889, but definitely lighter in tone, and less inspired. The Scherzo, labeled “Chasse,” is more of a galop, but a pleasant one, and the slow movement has its moments early on when Gounod channels the more Classical, less Romantic side of his musical personality. The rest is polished, but eminently forgettable. Saint-Saëns did this kind of thing far better.


The Concerto for Pedal Piano from 1889 is a more ambitious work, and a more successful one. Gounod makes far more use of the pedals—often in simple figurations, its true, but to excellent effect in the Scherzo, where they function as a canonic echo in the outer sections, while bringing back fragments of the main theme under the suave trio melody. The a-b-a Adagio features a chromatic funeral march à la Alkan, interrupted by the kind of blandly uplifting melody that occurs more regularly in the composer’s sacred output (which is far more extensive than generally realized). The Finale’s designation, allegretto marziale , is to be taken literally: martial horncalls and arpeggiated runs take up nearly half the movement before giving way to one of Gounod’s more distinctive themes, with more than a hint of the waltz about it.


It’s easy to see what would interest Gounod in the Russian national anthem of the period: its chorale-like character, combined with the ability for counterpoint, harmonic variation, and diminution in the bass. The pedal piano was just the thing for this. The Fantaisie sur l’hymne national russe (1885) plays on all of these. There are a few harmonic surprises, some attractive thematic fragmentation, and canonic hints that never go beyond what Gounod presumably thought his audience could safely absorb. There’s little bombast, and the work’s length (under five minutes) assures that it doesn’t over-last its welcome.


The album concludes with the Danse roumaine of 1888, one of two works Gounod discussed in a letter for Palicot to play at the soirees of the wealthy Madame Desgenétais. (The latter was also the dedicatee a couple of years later of a published essay by Gounod on the subject of Mozart’s Don Giovanni . The second work for pedal piano mentioned in the letter, a Chorale and Toccata, has since vanished.) The main theme has some characteristics of Romanian folk music in its very distant ancestry, but comes far closer to Gounod in one of his Bach Lite moods, with a simple figurative bass under a chorale-like theme. There’s a goodly amount of dull filler around it, but presumably the composer believed the theme and the unusual instrumentation (one assumes Palicot performed a solo or duet arrangement in the Desgenétais salon) were sufficient for his intended audience.


The performances are immaculate. The Swiss-Italian Orchestra isn’t the richest sounding or best blended in Europe, but its soloists are strong, and its performance as solidly professional as one could wish. Howard Shelley achieves a scintillating transparency from his musicians, and a rhythmic élan that is impossible to resist in the finales of both the Suite and Concerto. Roberto Prosseda emphasizes clarity and evenness in this music, and the fine engineering seconds him.


In short, the music ranges from uninspired to fun, but the performances make it work. Recommended with reservations as noted.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

1. Suite concertante for Pedal Piano and Orchestra by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Roberto Prosseda (Piano)
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; France 
2. Suite concertante for Pedal Piano and Orchestra by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Roberto Prosseda (Piano)
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; France 
3. Fantaisie sur l'hymne national russe by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Roberto Prosseda (Piano)
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; France 
4. Danse roumaine by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Roberto Prosseda (Piano)
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888 

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