Great as the Romantic triptych had been - it would have been quite unimaginable (and certainly much less colourful) if the musical scene around the time of 1840 only involved these three iconic figures that we have come to understand as the torchbearers of the Romantic Era in musical discourse. Hence, it is viable once in a while to throw in a historical perspective while listening to works of the great Romantic masters and to reach an understanding that they did not work in isolation during their time. If art is a 'borrowed' form of expression - only the greatest geniuses can claim the most originality. It is always plausible that great composers derived their compositional impetus from 'lesser' contemporaries or predecessors that have been consigned to oblivion in musical discourse.
Shedding some light from history - as well as to benefit the ears of listeners with a predilection for Romantic music - gave birth to this fascinating series. With excellent production values and near perfect consistency in performance, the composers in question could very well be reliving the experiences of hearing their works performed in their time committed digitally - an experience which they themselves could not have imagined even in their own lifetimes.
Before you think I'm veering far from the music at hand, here it goes.
While Gramophone's ever-ubiquitous Jeremey Nicholas was decidedly reserved in his opening address on the memorability of the music; quite unjustly mentioned to be an 'anti-climax' after the previous volume of Tchaikovsky's First by Hough (never thought much of the work to be sure!) He was nevertheless moved by Howard Shelley's (my perennial favourite British pianist and champion of rare Romantic works) ever-consummate performance and the 'solid craftsmenship' of the pieces and goes on to extoll the merits of the pieces.
Taubert and Rosenhain easily join the post-resurrected ranks of contemporaneous pianist-composer Ferdinand Hiller (Volume 45).
While the form of Taubert's First Concerto in E Major may be more 'free' than what one would expect from a classical concerto, it was more likely the result of a conscious decision rather than of compositional weakness. The two works by Taubert have nothing short of grace, and are far from being just enthused pot-pourri vessels of charm. The outer movements owe an overt influence to Mendelssohn's Op. 25 Concerto in form and orchestration, while the third movement relishes some masculine moments of Brahms with their full-blooded chords (and of Chopin's filigree pianistic writing, which is never really far away from Taubert's). The centre movement is delectably Moscehelean in its sensual use of woodwinds to recreate a nocturnal wistfulness.
If the first is more majestic in temperament - the Second in A Major is quite definitely the lyrical of the pair. It owes its inspiration quite overtly to Chopin in its opening arpeggios and falling sixths, while retaining an 'old school' aristocratic charm of say Ries or Weber. If the first movement is directly indebted to the Polish master, the subsequent movements betray more influence of Schumann and even Brahms (since the work was written as late as in 1874).
Rosenhain's Concerto in d minor has a similar expressive vein as Hiller's First (F minor, Op. 6) - beginning with a quizzical, slightly diabolical and militaristic dotted march-in rhythm (popular with many pianist-composers in the 1830s). The hushed opening led by the bassoons soon gives in to the overwhelming tutti of the orchestral forces. The piano solo repeats the main theme and goes through some attractive pianistic figuration before launching into the development. The lyrical second subject has some of the most luscious melodies and arpeggiated left hand harmonies. The ending passages played by the left hand seem like a direct quote from Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. I managed to lay my hands on the score - the piano writing is much more playable than it sounds.
Though cited as predictable and conventional for its day (according to Schumann's critique, which made sense by the 1840s when the work was released, some 10 years after Hiller's Op. 6 which I had drawn in for comparison), there's basically no reason not to like this perenially attractive work. It has all the flair of a successful early romantic piano concerto - passionate, romantic, heroic, lyrical, at times wistful but never self-wallowing, replete with virtuosic passages that are easier than it sounds to bring off. Far from empty repetitive clankering, they serve most of the time to create a sense of musical integration for the listener.
The 'heart' of the concerto - the Andante - stirs up an evocative ambience that is never too indulgingly melancholic. It's Chopin's wistfulness without the Polish element. A chromatic turn and modulation by the piano (with a beckoning clarinet) that rises and falls before the final recapitulation of the theme (announced by the plaintive cellos) throws an evocative shudder of incandescence that looks forward to Rachmaninov. A skittish and gallopy finale wraps up an altogether very wholesome work.
Unlike Jeremy Nicholas, it is usually the third movements that disappoints me in concertos (with the exception of perhaps Rachmaninov's Third - shouts "Encore!"); for some reason I cannot fully fathom. A possible conjecture I can conjure is that I favour declamation, pathos and lyricism over the irrate bouyancy that so typically pervades the final movements of works great or otherwise.