This is something of a discovery. Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1885) was an acclaimed composer in his day, but has been largely overlooked by record companies. I have heard some great claims about his oratorio Die Zerstörung Jerusalems, and on the evidence of this disc I would be very happy to hear it, or any of Hiller's many large scale works. Hiller was a friend of Berlioz, Liszt and Schumann, and a supporter of Wagner, and while his own music belongs to the romantic tradition of Schumann, Liszt and Chopin it is definitely not without an individual touch, and it contains some very fine ideas which are skillfully handled and developed. The music is not revelatory, perhaps, but no lover of romantic music will want to overlook it.
That is, it would be hard to make great claims about the early first concerto. There is plenty of brilliance and bravura, to be sure, moments of Weber-like atmospheres and some romantic yarn-spinning. It is worth hearing, but pales in comparison to the excellent second concerto. Here the themes are truly memorable, and the music is genuinely sparkling; brilliant and ebullient but with moments of poetic lyricism and even serenity (the memorable second movement, in particular). Chopin may be the composer most often brought to mind, but although Hiller lacks Chopin's melodic genius and lightning bolts of inspiration, the Hiller is better put together even than Chopin's somewhat problematic concertos; I would not want to exaggerate the resemblance either - Hiller's voice is recognizably his own, and there are plenty of original and inventive touches to the music. I'd even dare to call Hiller's second concerto a minor masterpiece.
The relatively late third concerto, `Concerto espressivo' is not quite on that level. There are plenty of imaginative touches, but this time around Hiller's struggle to be inventive and original shines through, and certain passages border on the manieristic. Still, there are many fine things here as well, and the concerto is certainly a rewarding addition to the repertoire. Throughout Shelley's playing is dazzling; vivid, vivacious, full of energy and poetry, and the orchestra seems to enjoy themselves as much as the soloist does. The sound is superb. A really rewarding disc, strongly recommended.