Consummate ease and brilliance

Consummate ease and brilliance

MusicWeb International, Stephen Greenbank

Hyperion have now reached volume 76 in their impressive Romantic Piano Concerto series. The composers featured are Joseph Rheinberger and the virtually unknown Bernard Scholz. The two works of the latter are here receiving their recording premieres.

Joseph Rheinberger was a graduate of the Munich Conservatory and later became a professor there. Eagerly sought after and influential, he counted amongst his students Engelbert Humperdinck and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Melancholic and retiring by nature, he was a virtuoso pianist in his own right until a hand problem intervened. His compositional output was prolific with twenty organ sonatas and several masses being the best known. His music is polyphonically geared and traditional, revealing the influences of Bach, Mozart, middle-period Beethoven and early Brahms.

The Piano Concerto in B major, Op. 57 dates from 1876 and is cast in a conventional three-movement mould, with two animated outer movements enveloping a central adagio. With several chords, the opening movement summons the listener’s attention in dramatic fashion.

Yet, aside from the almost bombastic virtuosity, which Callaghan addresses with consummate ease and brilliance, there are contrasting moments of lyrical effusiveness.

The second subject is a haunting, beguiling theme which is guaranteed to appeal. The slow movement has a benevolent charm and is bathed in swathes of tender eloquence. The finale opens with leaping octaves which usher in a memorable theme. The whole movement is etched in an opulently, full-bloodied romantic style.

Like Rheinberger, Bernhard Scholz taught for a period at Munich Conservatory. He gravitated to a circle that included Joachim, Clara Schumann and Brahms, and made great efforts to promote the latter’s music. The notes by Bryce Morrison state that he, too, composed twenty organ sonatas, yet I can’t find any evidence for this in the composer’s composition listing.

The Scholz Concerto was premiered in 1875 by Clara Schumann, who did much to champion it. Brahms, Mendelssohn and Schumann are detectable influences. The opener is based around a martial theme, and is permeated with some florid keyboard writing. The slow movement has a Schumannesque feel and, throughout, Callaghan achieves some luminous sonorities, backed by sensitive accompaniment from the orchestra. The finale is the finest of the three movements, Brahmsian-sounding with some Slavonic brushstrokes. It could almost be a success as a stand-alone piece. If you’re fond of Mendelssohn’s Capriccio brilliant, Op. 22 you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Scholz’s Capriccio. It begins in thoughtful manner but gradually springs into action with a whimsical scherzo.

Although the Rheinberger Concerto has previously been recorded, for the majority these two works will constitute an initial encounter, and a highly engaging outing at that. The sound quality is very natural, the ambience warm. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ben Gernon give of their best. The pianist Simon Callaghan has carved something of a niche for himself in unusual repertoire, having already participated in two recordings featuring music by the English composer Roger Sachererell Coke, which I was fortunate to review. One of the discs is Volume 73 in this Hyperion series (review), the other solo piano music on Somm (review).

For those keen to push the boat out a little to discover something new, I would urge them to give these concertos a try.