XAVER SCHARWENKA: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor; ANTON RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor – Marc-André Hamelin, p./ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Michael Stern – Hyperion

by | Feb 26, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

XAVER SCHARWENKA: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor; ANTON RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor – Marc-André Hamelin, p./ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Michael Stern – Hyperion Multichannel  SACD A67508, 59:41 *****:

Hard to believe this is Volume 38 of Hyperion’s amazing The Romantic Piano Concerto series! It has for years now been keeping very happy those of us who love piano concertos but have had the Tchaikovsky First and Grieg up to here.  Along the way innumerable obscure and forgotten piano concertos have been brought to light, from innumerable composers of similar ilk. However, the two concertos on this SACD were far from forgotten back around the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th – in fact they were among the most-performed. Both composers came to fame via a short little salon piece they had each written early on and which acted as their musical calling-card.  Scharwenka’s was a Polish Dance in E flat minor and Rubinstein’s his Melody in F – which still shows up on programs of piano encores and lighter favorites.

Both composers encompassed the familiar combined threat of composer and virtuoso pianist in the style of Liszt. Scharwenka was of Prussian origin and was largely self-taught until he was accepted into a music academy in Berlin.  His career consisted of teaching, concertising, composing and above all touring. He at one point visited Liszt and dedicated his First Piano Concerto to him.  This three-movement concerto does away with the usual slow movement, incorporating an Adagio into the stormy first movement. The fleet scherzo-rondo second movement showed off the virtuoso capabilities of its composer at the keyboard, and the work ends in an impressive big finish.

Rubinstein is important for having had as his only private pupil the great Josef Hofmann – who was considered one of the leading pianists and pedagogues of the last century.  Hoffman twice recorded the Fourth Concerto in live performances, and the work has also been committed to disc by such as Oscar Levant and Raymond Lewenthal. Like the Scharwenka, it is stuffed with unrestrained Late Romantic feeling and plenty of soaring melody.  Its finale sounds close to a Polish folk dance in character, and another big finish is provided by the virtuoso code to the concerto. Hamelin is the soloist on many of the concertos in this Hyperion series, and as I recall he aids the label in deciding on some of the possibilities.  Although these two are much less obscure, he gives full and serious attention to all of the ones he performs. Hi-res fans are lucky that the increased salability of this pairing probably aided  the decision to release it in SACD format.  While all the Hyperion series are superb sonically, this one has a greater transparency, fuller soundstage for the orchestra, and greater impact by the piano than the standard CD versions.  Most highly recommended!

– John Sunier

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01