The combination of Rheinberger and Scholz offers some rare but effective keyboard repertory from an era rife with talent.
The Romantic Piano Concerto 76 = RHEINBERGER: Piano Concerto in A-flat Major, Op. 94; SCHOLZ: Piano Concerto in B Major, Op. 57; Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 35 – Simon Callaghan/ BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ Ben Gernon – Hyperion CDA68225, 71:16 (6/29/18) [Distr. Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:
The continuing series devoted to rare, Romantic piano concertos finds strange bedfellows: Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901) and Bernhard Scholz (1835-1916). Rheinberger enjoyed a distinguished career as both composer and pedagogue. Besides having written many organ compositions—in fact, a significant body of work that continues Mendelssohn’s legacy to the instrument—Rheinberger taught musical composition to a distinguished list of American and European students, among whom Horatio Parker, George Whitefield Chadwick, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Wilhelm Furtwaengler count but a few. In terms of musical influences, Rheinberger’s style combines strong contrapuntal procedures derived from his intense study of Bach, with a lyrical effusiveness we find in his contemporaries Schumann and Brahms. In the manner of the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto, an abrupt call to attention ushers in the piano solo, Moderato, whose double notes and parallel octaves leave no doubt as to the level of virtuosity required. The melodic shape of the second subject reminds us of Schumann,, especially his late -style dotted rhythms of the Concerto-Rondo in D minor, Op .134. The more bombastic episodes in the course of the development resonate with something akin to the D minor Concerto of Anton Rubinstein. Some diaphanous filigree for piano and string work enters at the mid-point of the movement, the melody and scoring for horns not a little reminiscent of Schumann. A militant flourish invites the cadenza, rife with Bach counterpoint that could easily have been an independent prelude and fugue. Glittery arpeggios lead to string accompaniment, a kind of halo-effect. Another sforzato rush from the orchestra leads to a second, ornamental cadenza and a resolute, pomposo coda.
The second movement, Adagio patetico, casts a lyrical melody from a welter of romantic arpeggios and declamations. Strings and tympani mark the lyrical-dramatic progress, with the ardent support of French horn and high winds. The scoring moe than once recalls Mendelssohn, though the tympani and its rolls add a curious luster. The keyboard part breaks off momentarily alone, then the orchestra alone, and the two forces unite in a scampering, lyrical episode marked by the flutes and then dotted rhythms. Late, the keyboard part becomes thicker and daerkly agitated, only to reach a suspended period that fades away into a distant thunder. Rheinberger marks his last movement Finale: Allegro energico, which opens with leaping octaves and a sense of grand design. But Rheinberger’s ambitions seem more modest, since the filigree becomes ornamental, moving between adagio molto and poco meno mosso, and the piano delights in glitter and cascading scales. This kind of writing is more Saint-Saens than Schumann, but Rheinberger lacks the potent melodic gift of those composers. The lyricism, in itself, never fails, but the kernels exist in terse, evocative phrase-lengths, while the piano muses in spidery colors. Opulent and rhetorically colorful, the Concerto reveals a gracious, competent spirit, certainly effective for pianist Callaghan, and well recorded in Glasgow (25-26 May 2017).
Bernhard Scholz claims the musical circle that includes Joachim, Clara Schumann, and Brahms. The Piano Concerto in B Major—here, in its debut recording—proceeds in rather an academic format, resolute at first in the spirit of Mendelssohn, and then lightly buoyant in a Brahms manner. The same ritual of octaves and double notes applies as in Rhineberger, though Scholz offers a rising-scale melody that he soon submits for variation in sparkling filigree. The quasi-martial episodes sing with a lyrical fancy we might attribute to Schumann in one of carefree moods. The constant effusion of glittery keyboard and sweet string harmony may become tedious but never offensive. In its last pages, the martial element reigns, syncopated in much recollection of Mendelssohn. The mix crescendos to a ripe, hearty coda.
Schumann once more inspires the opening gestures to the Andante, quasi adagio second movement. Plaintive and sincere in sentiment, the music has much to recommend Scholz as a composer in the Romantic tradition of a “song without words.” The melody progresses via French horn accompaniment and keyboard’s penchant for soft trills. A secondary tune opens three minutes into the slow movement, and it soon assumes a more daring, air, but only temporarily, since the music resumes the musing sensibility of one’s converse with Nature. After the bucolic whims, the Allegro offers a real somewhat Slavonic, dance that moves along on its own impetus, virile and colorfully orchestrated, a la Dvorak. The interior episode contains a Brahms-like melancholy, while retaining hints of the “Hungarian” dance. In retrospect, the whole movement enjoys a cast and canter not so different from the last movements in Saint-Saens and Litolff. If the writing lacks the heroic or brilliant invention of the composer’ major contemporaries, it still serves to illuminate the talents of the principals.
The Scholz Capriccio—likewise making its recording debut—seems entirely derivative of Mendelssohn’s Capriccio brilliant, Op. 22, with a slow, glittery introduction in dotted, fanfare rhythms and keyboard trills that suddenly accelerates into its caprice or scherzo character. The horn and tympani work, too, hearkens both to Mendelssohn and Schumann. The main theme relishes staccato figures in nervous energy, peppy and unencumbered by deep thoughts. Often, I thought of the Saint-Saens Caprice in the Form of an Etude, from Op. 56. Commentator Bryce Morrison finds adumbrations of Prokofiev’s C Major Concerto in the trills, but those of Scholz lack the bitter-sweet acerbic power of the Russian. Still, the Scholz has been an effective diversion. Kudos to Recording Producer Jeremy Hayes for a well recorded document of rare repertory.