Classical CD Reviews

HERMANN GOETZ: Piano Concerto in B flat major; JÓZEF WIENIASKI: Piano Concerto in g – Hamish Milne, p./ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Michal Dworzynski – Hyperion
MAX REGER: Piano Concerto in f; R. STRAUSS: Burleske in D minor – Marc-André Hamelin, p./ Radio Sym. Orch. Berlin/ Ilan Volkov – Hyperion

Two more fine entries in the huge Romantic Piano Concerto series of CDs from Hyperion.

Published on April 2, 2012

HERMANN GOETZ: Piano Concerto in B flat major; JÓZEF WIENIASKI: Piano Concerto in g – Hamish Milne, p./ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Michal Dworzynski – Hyperion </br> MAX REGER: Piano Concerto in f; R. STRAUSS: Burleske in D minor – Marc-André Hamelin, p./ Radio Sym. Orch. Berlin/ Ilan Volkov – Hyperion

HERMANN GOETZ: Piano Concerto in B flat major, Op. 18; JÓZEF WIENIASKI: Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 20 – Hamish Milne, piano/ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Michal Dworzynski – Hyperion CDA67791, TT: 69:30 (The Romantic Piano Concerto Vol. 52)  [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****: 

MAX REGER: Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 114; RICHARD STRAUSS: Burleske in D minor – Marc-André Hamelin, piano/ Radio Sym. Orch. Berlin/ Ilan Volkov – Hyperion CDA6735, TT: 56:53 (The Romantic Piano Concerto Vol. 53) [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] *****:

Hyperion Records continues with its important series, The Romantic Piano Concerto, with Volume 52 (Goetz and Wieniaski) and Volume 53 (Reger and Strauss). These, among others, allow current music lovers of the piano and Romantic music an opportunity to hear seldom, if ever, heard works that came from the creative minds of known and more often forgotten composers. Hyperion provides exceptional performances in state of the art sound, i.e., for compact discs.

Goetz (1840-1876) is remembered, if at all, is for his successful opera The Taming of the Shrew, after Shakespeare. He also wrote a Symphony in F major, Op. 9, that inspired playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw to pen the following purple passage (excerpted): “Beside it (Goetz’s Symphony) Mendelssohn’s Scotch Symphony is no symphony at all. . .He (Goetz) has the charm of Schubert without his brainlessness, the refinement and inspiration of Mendelssohn without his limitation and timid gentility, Schumann’s sense of harmonic expression without his laboriousness, shortcomings and dependence on external poetic stimulus. . .You have to go to Mozart’s finest quartets and quintets on the one hand and to Die Meistersinger on the other for work of the quality we find, not here and there, but continuously, in the Symphony in F and The Taming of the Shrew, two masterpieces which place Goetz securely above all other German composers. . . save only Mozart and Beethoven, Weber and Wagner.” Each to his own taste.

Goetz’s Piano Concerto is a workman-like creation, not rising to Shaw’s exalted level of praise for the symphony and opera. In this work, Goetz showed a natural melodic ability, though not on the level of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber or Wagner. The long first movement places the most technical requirements on the pianist. Strongly reminiscent of Schumann and Chopin, the Goetz Concerto, while likable, is not first rate. After the composer’s death at age 36 from tuberculosis (contracted as a child), the Concerto fell into obscurity like most of his music.

Wieniawski is not the famous violinist, but his younger brother. He studied under Liszt. He was known for promoting in Western Europe Polish composer Stanislaw Moniuszko, an ardent nationalist. Wieniawski’s Piano Concerto follows in step with forerunners written by Chopin and Liszt. The elaborately ornamented writing seems to have come straight out of Chopin. The demands on the pianist are monumental with little time off when there are sparse orchestral utterances. With dramatic characteristics and from the period when melody was still popular with composers, the Concerto is pleasing and at times  spectacular.

Pianist Hamish Milne is one of those keyboard superstars which Britain seems to be producing these days. Milne is technically brilliant and his musical insight is carefully judged. Polish native Dworzyn´ski has been busy establishing himself throughout Europe and his conducting on this compact disc is a perfect foil to Milne’s piano.

The Reger and the Strauss have a dependency on Brahms’ two piano concertos. Reger’s Piano Concerto was championed by Rudolph Serkin who made a recording for the American Columbia label, long before it became Sony. Sony reissued that recording on compact disc in Japan, but, for some reason not in the U.S.

Reger’s Concerto owes much to the influence of Brahms, without Brahms’ sense of melody. Reger knew a good tune when he heard it, as he used in the Hiller Variations. But here in the Piano Concerto, no melodic goodies. Instead there is heavy going. It is largely shaped by Brahms’ First Piano Concerto which started out as a symphony until the composer changed its direction. There is also the influence of Liszt, specifically his B minor Sonata with constantly changing complex patterns.

Reger wrote, “My Piano Concerto is going to be misunderstood for years. The musical language is too austere and too serious; it is, so to speak, a pendant to Brahms’ D minor Piano Concerto. The public will need some time to get used to it.”

At its premiere, German music critics hated the work, leaving Reger not only deeply disturbed, but pained in a way that drove him to drink. They failed to recognize the strict classical form in all three movements and the quote of several chorales by J.S. Bach.

Richard Strauss’ Burleske, one of his earlier works, is tied to Brahms also, but in this case the Second Piano Concerto, specifically the concerto’s second movement. Michael Kennedy explained, “…the genius of the Burleske is that it shows Strauss using parody as an act of homage.” Wagner is alluded to also, the Tristan chord appearing in the cadenza and an indirect reference to the storm music in Die Walkure.

Strauss’ composition has melody in spades. Not every pianist will try to play it, but a very few talented  ones can make this fast moving mini-concerto come alive. French Canadian virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin performs both the Reger and the Strauss with great bravura. He is accompanied by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under the baton of Israeli conductor Ilan Volkov, 36 years old and with an impressive world-wide reputation. Volkov has recorded for Hyperion, as has Hamelin—who has over 60 recordings to his credit, including many concertos and solo recitals.

The sound on these recordings is especially fine from recording producer Andrew Keener and recording engineer Simon Eadon. Program notes are excellent and printed in English, French and German.

As a point of clarity, the Vox label issued a series of  two-CD VoxBoxes in 1992 also called The Romantic Piano Concerto. While there is some overlap with the Hyperion series in repertoire, there is no comparison otherwise. Vox used one pianist, Michael Ponti, also very skilled, but with indifferent sound and a variety of second-string European orchestras conducted by a variety of lesser-known conductors.

These two Hyperion discs are highly recommended!

—Zan Furtwangler

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