LESSEL Piano Concerto in C. DOBRZYNSKI Piano Concerto in A? • Howard Shelley (pn, cond); Sinfonia Varsovia • FRYDERYK CHOPIN INSTITUTE 101 (59:05) Live: Warsaw 8/25/2010, 8/20/2009
Howard Shelley is a phenomenon. In addition to his recordings of the standard repertoire as pianist and conductor, his series for Hyperion of neglected romantic piano concertos is one of the treasures of the CD catalog. Now we encounter something special even byRead more Shelley’s standards: live performances of two early 19th-century Polish piano concertos. Instead of the perfectly decent Tasmanian Symphony on Hyperion, Shelley here is partnered by a world-class orchestra, the Sinfonia Varsovia. The give-and-take between Shelley and the orchestra is wonderful to behold. Also, Shelley’s grace and elegance as a musician are enhanced by live recording, as opposed to his previous studio efforts. This CD ranks among Shelley’s finest accomplishments, and that says a lot.
Franciszek Lessel studied in Vienna with Haydn, who introduced him to Beethoven and other luminaries of the day. Chopin’s teacher, Józef Elsner, called Lessel “an ingenious composer.” His op. 14 piano concerto was premiered by the composer in Warsaw in 1810, when Lessel was 30. We may assume that Lessel studied Mozart’s piano concertos with Haydn, although this work also is influenced by Beethoven and his contemporaries. The concerto’s opening orchestral tutti is filled with Viennese elegance, just a step away from Johann Strauss I. The soloist takes on the role of a wise man of the world, commenting on the scenes surrounding him. He is a highly agreeable, engaging sort of musical tour guide. This is a protoromantic piano concerto. The second movement seems elegiac, with the piano floating over a delicate accompaniment. This movement aspires to the state of lyric poetry, with the soloist as reciter—ending with a final expiration of breath. The last movement starts with a mazurka that is strikingly modern, like a 1960s European pop tune. The soloist engages in a dignified virtuosity, never breaking a sweat. This movement leaves you in a state of contemplation and admiration, rather than romantic triumph or pathos.
Ignacy Feliks Dobrzy?ski’s op. 2 concerto was written in 1824, when the composer was 17. Although strikingly precocious, it never was performed publicly during the composer’s lifetime. Dobrzy?ski joined Chopin in Elsner’s composition class in 1826. Stanislaw Dybowski, author of the excellent program notes for this CD, speculates that the string tremolo episode in the middle movement of Chopin’s Second Concerto was influenced by a similar one in Dobrzy?ski’s work. Dybowski also notes similarities between Chopin’s Rondo à la Krakowiak and Dobrzy?ski’s concluding rondo. The older man’s concerto shows the influence of Hummel and Field. Its opening tutti contains striking alternations between the whole orchestra and individual choirs. The soloist’s entrance announces his dominance. His part varies between excitement and delicacy, youthful high spirits and pensiveness. Marked espressivo, the second movement is a Fieldian nocturne. Solo horn calls accentuate the nighttime atmosphere. Overall, this movement evokes the spirit of young romance, with the solo part emphasizing elegance over display. This changes in the last movement, which is a display piece in the style galant. The solo part here lacks a fully coherent emotional identity, but its pianistic dexterity has its own interest. The melodic content, though slight, is well fleshed out and appealing.
The sound engineering on this CD is especially good, clear and beautifully balanced—quite exceptional for live recordings. It says a lot for these performances that both of these obscure concertos are greeted with bravos. To anyone with an interest in Howard Shelley’s exploration of the romantic concerto, this CD will be self-recommending. As an example of the hidden riches of the early 19th-century repertoire, I doubt this album could be bettered.
Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 14by Franciszek Lessel Performer:
Howard Shelley (Piano)
Date of Recording: 08/25/2010 Venue: Sali Koncertowej Filharmonii Narodowej w Length: 27 Minutes 34 Secs.
Piano Concerto in A flat major, Op. 2by Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski Performer:
Howard Shelley (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: 1824 Date of Recording: 08/20/2009 Venue: Sali Koncertowej Filharmonii Narodowej w Length: 31 Minutes 29 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Howard Shelley Does It AgainMay 14, 2012By D. Stewart (Flagstaff, AZ)See All My Reviews"Pianist Howard Shelley continues to bring us superb accounts of the works of unknown or neglected composers. His annual appearances at the Chopin And His Europe Festival have resulted in these live performances recorded in 2009 and 2010. In both Concertos he is both Conductor and Soloist with the Sinfonia Varsovia. The performances and recording could not be bettered. The Lessel, Op 14, written in 1801 is the more drammatic of the two with plenty of orchestral heft, while the Dobrzynski, Op 2, written in 1824, is so memorable one wonders where it has been all this time. Needless to say, Shelley is in his element supported by the first class players of the Sinfonia Varsovia. Technically, this recording from The Fryderyk Chopin Institute is superb, equal to the excellence we expect and get from the two major labels most associated with Howard Shelley, Hyperion and Chandos. The robust yet clear sound and the balance of all the instruments reveal wonderful woodwind writing reminders of both Hummel and Ries. One can only hope that the vault contains some more recordings of Howard Shelley's appearances at the Festival. Grab this one at once. You will not be disappointed, only left wanting more."Report Abuse