on 9 November 2012
For those who relish the music of Weber, Hummel, Moscheles or Kalkbrenner, this latest release will make one wonder why Pixis has not been offered on CD a long while back. Credited with over 100 publications, remembered if at all by his set of variations on a Diabelli waltz, (and yes, Beethoven too wrote a set), he contributed to Liszt's Hexameron, was hailed as one of the most outstanding concert pianists and composers of his day and was respected by Chopin and Liszt. This latest release of Volume 58 from The Romantic Piano Concerto series has proved that Pixis too has suffered his share of unfair neglect. Other than playing before the masses, Johann Peter Pixis appeared before royalty, dukes and duchesses and other aristocratic patrons before his popularity faded when he retired early from public life. For those who benefit from a little background on the working composer and relevant compositions in liner notes, I've provided a few brief but interesting historical particulars, which do not appear in the booklet, concerning the London premieres of these concertos and a curious Austrian association while visiting the capital.
At the height of his European career in the mid 1820s, he was well known to music lovers in Britain by a substantial output of piano pieces that appeared from the publishing house of Clementi from 1824. Many were best sellers, like his variations on Robin Adair. Before visiting London, concert performances of his works were given at the capital from 1825; remarkably most by women. The first was by a Delphine De Schauroth (probably a Pixis pupil from Paris). A year later, the London premiere of his Piano Concertino Op. 68 was given by an RAM student named Miss. Durrell at the Hanover Square Rooms on 6 December 1826. In addition, the English premiere of his Piano Concerto Op.100 (1829) was given at the same venue on 5 August 1831 by a Madame De Belleville (presumably another French pupil). Pixis made his London debut in late April 1828. He also appeared at the Musical Festival in Cambridge, the Commemoration Concerts in Oxford and appeared with other European celebrities who were performing in London. The most notable highlight of his visit, however, was the patronage he received from Prince (& Princess) Esterhazy (the son of Haydn's patron) and Prince Leopold of Austria, who were visiting the English capital at this time. Curiously, one wonders if this Austrian visit was the trigger from which inspired Pixis to write his second piano concerto that he dedicated to Austrian royalty in the following year.
Regarding this latest Hyperion release, this world premiere recording of his two piano concertos Opp.68 and 100 is simply magnificent; the concertos are melodically intense; they are stunning, they stimulate the senses and are deeply lyrical. Although these works will probably never be at the forefront with those of Hummel, Moscheles or Beethoven, they still possess that captivating appeal, which had made them popular in their day. There is little doubt as to why Howard Shelley holds the distinction as being one of the most favoured interpreters of early romantic piano music of our time. With remarkable excellence he effortlessly delivers an unusual array of striking forms which Pixis had skilfully crafted; aided by the judicious playing of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Shelley embraces `unexpected modulations', `nocturne-like themes' (reminiscent of John Field) `exquisite' subject matter and `conversational counterpoint' among a host of other attractive early romantic features. Using a phrase from an eye witness on Pixis's London debut, here Shelley too is `like a daring sportsman'. With `intrepid' nature, he exhibits wonderful brilliancy, superb accuracy and clear articulation with outstanding fervour and dashing energy. What more can one expect! As for the Thalberg concerto, Shelley now holds first place. Many may disagree, considering that there two fine renditions on CD by Michael Ponti and by Francesco Nicolosi (on the Vox and Naxos labels respectively), both of which are certainly well played and from which recordings I also own. In short, however, it's the flair of Shelley's performance and precision of his interpretation that I find most convincing and attractive. If you are a follower of the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series or a fan of piano concertos in general, you'll be amazed and consider the marvel in this compilation. Let's hope that Pixis's only symphony, a double concerto for piano and violin, as well as several chamber pieces, also scored for piano, will not be too far away from the CD catalogue. This latest Hyperion release packs a punch with spirited bravura. Bravo Hyperion! Encore Howard Shelley and the TSO.