Classical CD Reviews

GEORGY CATOIRE: Piano Concerto; PERCY SHERWOOD: Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major – Hiroaki Takenouchi, p./ Royal Scottish Nat. Orch./ Martin Yates – Dutton Epoch

Romanticism served two ways—an enjoyable stroll far off the beaten path.

Published on January 1, 2013

GEORGY CATOIRE: Piano Concerto; PERCY SHERWOOD: Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major – Hiroaki Takenouchi, p./ Royal Scottish Nat. Orch./ Martin Yates – Dutton Epoch

GEORGY CATOIRE: Piano Concerto Op. 21; PERCY SHERWOOD: Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major – Hiroaki Takenouchi, p./ Royal Scottish National Orch./ Martin Yates – Dutton Epoch CDLX 7287 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi], 66:39 ****:

These two concerti share almost no similarities except the slightly confused nationalities of their composers. Georgy Catoire (1861–1926) was born and died in Moscow, but as you can guess from his name, his family was French, prominent in Moscow business circles. Percy Sherwood (1866–1939) was born in Dresden of an English father and a German mother. On the eve of World War I he emigrated to England, living in Hampstead until his death on the eve of the Second World War.

Sherwood was certainly the less lucky of the two. He studied at the Dresden Conservatorium with Felix Draeseke and garnered attention as both a composer and pianist. He wrote five symphonies and as many concerti for various instruments, as well as six string quartets and other chamber music. In 1911 he was named professor of piano at his alma mater. Then it all came crashing down. With the start of World War I, all things English became anathema in Germany, including a native son with an English name. When Sherwood and his family relocated to London, he found that his name didn’t ingratiate him with the British either. His conservative, echt-German Romantic style was out of step with musical trends in England, and for the rest of his life he had to make his way as a piano teacher though he didn’t stop composing; his Second Piano Concerto dates from 1933.

Gregory Catoire also studied in Germany, in Berlin, and caught the Wagner bug while he was there. Returned to Russia from his studies, he gravitated to the circle of Tchaikovsky and Arensky, apparently more comfortable with these Western-influenced composers than with the Mighty Handful. He became a professor of music at the Moscow Conservatory, numbering Kabalevsky among his pupils. Unlike Sherwood, his catalog is relatively brief—a symphony (which Martin Yates and his Scottish band have recently recorded for Dutton), some chamber and solo piano music, and of course the Piano Concerto, Op. 21, completed in 1909. However, unlike the unlucky Sherwood, Catoire’s music has been recorded more often.

The Concerto has an unusual structure, the long (nineteen minutes) first movement being a set of six variations following an extended introduction, by turns lyrical and dramatic, capped by a cadenza. So it sounds as if Catoire is putting the musical cart before the horse in this movement, but it’s attractive all the same. The opening music has a kind of cinematic sweep to it; in fact, it’s a bit like one of those phony concerti that film composers wrote into their scores back in the 40s (you know, the Spellbound Concerto and Warsaw Concerto). But the variations are very businesslike—interesting and accomplished—making for an impressive opening, all in all.

The slow movement taps into a vein of melancholy dreaminess à la Russe, though its central section is more restless and agitated, ending with a glittery splash of piano chords, trills, and runs before a return to the tranquility of the opening. The finale starts bombastically, recalling Scriabin in one of his more rhetorical poses. Again, I can’t help thinking this is movie music before its time, but it’s all very pretty, especially for those who can’t get enough of heart-on-sleeve Romanticism.

The Sherwood Concerto, then, makes a good foil because it’s Romanticism of the old school, Germanic to the core. “This is music that in 1933 was fifty or sixty years out of date” quips note-writer Lewis Foreman. In fact, Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto sounds modern by comparison! But as with the Catoire piece, the music is likable, well crafted and with good tunes.

I confess I haven’t run into the name Hiroaki Takenouchi before, but I suspect this won’t be the last time I do. The London-based pianist is reputed to be “a passionate advocate of contemporary music,” but his credits also include performances of Sterndale Bennett, Delius, and Parry, so perhaps we have here a musician who’ll do for out-of-the-way Romantic composers what Howard Shelley does for out-of-the-way Classical ones. Anyhow, this is a very enjoyable excursion off the beaten track, thanks to Takenouchi, Martin Yates, and the fine Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

—Lee Passarella

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