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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concertante music for an unusual piano-hybrid that makes up for what it lacks in profundity with elegance and charm, 12 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Gounod: Complete Works For Piano & Orchestra [Roberto Prosseda, Howard Shelley] [Hyperion: CDA67975] (Audio CD)
Gounod isn't a composer one primarily associates with orchestral or instrumental music, the two early symphonies aside, but this enterprising and enjoyable release from Hyperion proves to be a real winner. The music itself, written to showcase the pedal piano - a curious hybrid beast with a separate keyboard played by the feet, which Schumann apparently (and erroneously) believed would replace the regular piano - and inspired by a particular practitioner of the instrument hails from relatively late in Gounod's career and is more obviously of the Romantic period than the two symphonies idiomatically; that said, though, there are echoes of the Classical period throughout both the suite and the concerto - the structural concision of both these works, for example, or the "hunting music" of the suite's second movement (a common trope in the High and Late Classical era). There are even a few nods in Beethoven's direction in the rhetorical gestures of the concerto's opening `Allegro moderato', which the liner notes describe as being in the "heroic style", but to approach these works expecting the pyrotechnics of a Liszt concerto or the large-scale symphonic canvases of Brahms or Tchaikovsky is surely to set oneself up for disappointment: the primary aim of this music seems to be to charm and delight the listener, the keyboard writing elegant and effervescent by turns obviously designed to emphasise the slightly drier, more clipped sound of the unusual solo instrument.

And charm all of this music amply does to my ears. It would be a hard heart indeed that didn't respond to the flowing rhythmic and melodic momentum of `Entrée de fete', the movement that opens the disc (and the suite) or the vivacious tarantella that concludes this tuneful work. One might say the same of the scherzo and delectably witty finale of the four-movement concerto, a march designated "Pomposo" in the score but with delicately applied percussion that is actually a world away from pomp and ceremony as one would commonly expect it. None of this music plumbs any great depths nor does it essay profundity but nonetheless the `Romance' in the suite and the `Adagio non troppo' of the concerto are both warmly lyrical and the latter in particular, with its suggestions of a funeral march, carries an emotional burden that sets it aside from anything else to be heard in this collection - the piano writing here is less effusive, rather starker and more imaginative in its effects. The two remaining pieces are more occasional in nature - the fantasy on the Russian national anthem makes surprisingly inventive use of what is a frankly rather banal tune (as perhaps most such anthems are when shorn of their nationalist or patriotic connotations) and the Danse Roumaine is a mere bagatelle, its occasional mildly folk-like turns of phrase not really sounding very authentic.

If this disc admittedly doesn't contain any hitherto undiscovered masterpieces, Hyperion have certainly provided it with the sort of production values and performances that more substantial musical fare would merit: Roberto Prosseda turns in sterling performances, his work at the dual keyboards sounding effortless despite the demands this complicated instrument must make on the artist, and he dispatches Gounod's piano writing with panache and sympathy; the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana under Howard Shelley's sure direction provide accompaniment of no less sympathy and neither soloist nor conductor try to push Gounod's slender but lovely music into being anything more than it was intended to be. The liner notes are exemplary, with detailed discussion of the music and its genesis, plus a short but informative piece on the pedal piano itself. The sound quality is impeccable.

This sixty-second release in Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series seems to have received some less-than-warm welcomes in the musical press but I have found it utterly delightful - I'm sure there are more ingenious and original concertos out there waiting to be recorded but there still remains a place for music that aims simply to please and charm without any pretension to "Greatness" (with an upper case G!). I would probably be inclined to award this disc four stars for the contents (and rather short playing time - 55'56") but Roberto Prosseda's performance and the excellent sound quality have persuaded me to bump that score up to five stars.

Warmly recommended.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Nov 2013 20:09:23 GMT
Until I saw who one of your fellow reviewers is it was a mystery to me how anyone could vote this down but I wouldn't worry about the unhelpful vote as the chap in question is a serial down-voter of other people who review the same things as him (even when there reviews are in agreement with his!!)...

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Nov 2013 18:29:24 GMT
Thank you.

Posted on 17 Nov 2013 16:34:06 GMT
Stephen says:
I hope wandering minstrel isn't referring to me, because I don't do that (and how would he know?). I'm afraid I voted this review as unhelpful because it is simply too long to hold my interest. Whether I agree with it is not the point.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2013 15:54:36 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Nov 2013 15:56:55 GMT
Just a couple of brief remarks...

Firstly, concerning Mr. Peacock's review. I for one do not consider his review too long. I had already bought the CD and, while I do not agree with some of what he has written, I would consider it a 'helpful' review.
It seems that many people vote a review 'down' if they disagree with the reviewer's views on the performance or music. Finding a review helpful (or not) has often little to do with whether one agrees or disagrees with the reviewer's view of the music or artist.
Regarding very long reviews (I have already said I do not consider this one in that category) it interests me as to why people write them.
If a review exceeds a certain length (depending on the patience, etc. of the reader) they will simply give up and move on.
Surely reviewers who write very long reviews know that many people will not bother to read it. It begs the question why they continue with their verbosity in review after review. Points can be made succinctly and thus keep the reader's interest.
I had better stop in case I am accused of that very thing....

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2013 19:31:45 GMT
I'm not mentioning any names! It's suprisingly easy to observe voting patterns when you put your mind to it though I guess I'd never have noticed if I hadn't one day returned to a page I'd been on a few moments before and hey presto a new review and a new negative vote for the other reviewer! Both in a matter of a couple of minutes! Don't take much to trawl back through other reviews or to follow someone's new reviews from then on. But I could be mistaken and anyone can be a repeated victim of circumstance or have genuine reasons for voting fellow reviewers down just like in this case or because they want to be at the top of the reviews on the page or in the rankings here, if that's so and I believe on reflection it must surely be so, I humbly apologise to the person I have deliberately not singled out by name. Hope this isn't too long for you to have made it to the end btw.
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