Top positive review
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Devastatingly good stuff
on 10 December 2014
I was not forewarned that Chandos was bringing this set out and so was delighted when it came my way.
Like some of the other reviewers, I have known these pieces for a long time, both in recording and as sheet music, and lamented their absence from the concert platform since the composer's death (ninety years ago now). Clearly, any one of the four of the would take a Proms audience by storm: so why not, one has to ask. Maurice Hinson's guide to piano and orchestra repertoire, published by the University of Indiana Press, confirms the position when it explains that these four pieces were once very popular indeed until the concertos of Rachmaninoff gradually replaced them, which, Hinson goes on to say, is a pity, as they are in some ways more interesting than others which are often played in public today.
It is a curious thing in the concert hall that, although there is flexibly distending capacity for additional symphonies, it seems that for one to hear a new, or indeed an existing but neglected piano concerto and for it to enter the main circuit, another has to be dropped or take a back seat. I have never understood this, but Hinson confirms it and there must be a way of breaking this senseless situation. We should then hear more Scharwenka, more Medtner, more Dohnanyi, more Bowen, and more Martinu. We might even be treated to Tchaikovsky's second piano concerto for a change.
Xaver Scharwenka was a true nineteenth century extrovert in the grandest manner, knocking about in royal palaces across Europe, friends with Liszt, endlessly energetic in his public and private life, founding a top-notch conservatoire along the way. His memoirs are amongst the funniest and most entertaining and, as with Harpo Marx, one genuinely wishes he was still with us. He not only looked the part, but he was a transcendental pianist in the Chopin mould and his music sounds a little like Chopin but much more up to date and with 1000% better orchestration than his predecessor ever achieved in his two enigmatic piano concertos. In short, Scharwenka's four concertos are not in any sense "old hat"; instead, they achieve more than sufficient melodic, pianistic, and constructional interest to lift them out of any sense of period feel and into the mainstream. Very often they have you on the edge of your seat and there are some hair-raising and even shocking moments. In his quieter writing in the slow movements of concertos 2, 3, and 4, he is even able to create an elegy approaching something by Mahler, which is a real revelation.
And the recording? Excellent sound as one would expect; mighty but nimble-fingered pianism, fully attuned to the style and onward force of the writing, lavish orchestral playing and impeccable direction from Jarvi, (of course).
You have to get this, or you are missing four of the funnest musical things. They're not just candyfloss, though; they're tremendously exciting, high-quality music.