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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No masterpieces here but attractive all the same., 30 July 2013
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This review is from: Dubois: Romantic Piano Concerto [ Cédric Tiberghien, Andrew Manze] [Hyperion: CDA67931] (Audio CD)
Theodore Dubois (1837-1924) was a French composer and organist who trained at the Paris Conservatoire. He won the Prix de Rome in 1861 and, on his return from Italy, was appointed Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire. Later he became Professor of Composition and then director until his retirement in 1905. He was also organist at the Madeleine. As a composer Dubois was extremely productive although there are only a few concertante works.

The "Concerto Capriccioso" (Dubois' "First Piano Concerto") was premiered in 1876 by Jeanne Duvinage, the composer's wife. As the notes which come with this disc say, it is very much in the tradition of the German Konzertstuck. You will be reminded of Schumann's examples and much of the piano figuration is also reminiscent of the German master. The concerto is in a single movement and begins with a lengthy recitative-like cadenza. Eventually the orchestra enters with the main idea, a passionate and urgent tune. The subsidiary material is pleasantly lyrical but not really memorable. The central section, beginning at 9 mins 16 secs, may be regarded as a rhapsodic development. New material for the soloist it introduced while the orchestra refers to melodies from earlier on. Eventually, at 11 mins 57 secs mins, the return of the passionate tune signals the beginning of the "recapitulation". Altogether, this concerto, considerably boosted by the quality of its main theme, is an attractive and well sustained work.

The Second Piano Concerto dates from 1898 and is stylistically very different from the first. The influence of Saint-Saens is apparent. The first movement is a sonata structure. Both its main themes are lyrical in character. The second is particularly lovely though more so for the way it is presented than for its intrinsic quality. The elegantly decorative piano writing will immediately remind you of Chopin. Indeed, there is far more poetry here than in the genuine Polish concertos included in the previous issue in this series. Unfortunately, in spite of many attractively lyrical pages, this movement is let down by its ramshackle construction. With frequent tempo changes, it never really gets going. To create a little tension in the development section, Dubois has to rely on the concerto's opening flourish. Saint-Saens' last piano concerto, the "Egyptian", dates from the previous year and, frankly, Dubois cannot compete in terms of melodic or dramatic flair or certainty of construction.

The other movements are more convincing. The slow movement is a simple ternary structure. The opening tempo is sustained throughout and the main theme is lovely if rather plain. The scherzo is very short and immediately attractive. The chattering main idea is contrasted with a more lyrical idea as in the famous scherzo from Saint-Saens' Second concerto. The finale begins with a long cadenza which, rather like the one which opens the Concerto-capriccioso, is recitative-like in character. Many of the themes from the concerto are reintroduced until the orchestra enters with the movement's main idea, one which would obviously make a good subject for a fugato. Eventually Dubois obliges. A syncopated fragment of melody provides the lyrical interest. I enjoyed getting to know this concerto and so will you but don't set your sights too high. It's not Saint-Saens' Sixth!

The "Suite for Piano and Strings" dates from 1917 and was finished on the composer's 80th birthday. Although the notes suggest that the music is neo-Classical pastiche, its movements are only identified by tempo indications and the first three movements at least seemed to me fairly squarely in the Romantic tradition. The Suite is an attractive work though, again, its lyrical ideas tend to be rather short-winded. The heart of this work is very much the slow movement whose lyricism reaches an unforeseen level of eloquence.

I can give this disc a firm recommendation, then, though, to be honest, I was a little disappointed by the Second Concerto. The performances are excellent as is the recording.
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