Romantic Piano Concerto Vol. 56: Kalkbrenner
Piano Concerto No 2, Op. 85
Piano Concerto No.3, Op. 107
Adagio & Allegro di Bravura, Op. 102
Howard Shelly, piano
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
I’m a big fan of Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series.
This latest installment – Volume 56 – maintains the same high standards
of recording and performance quality as the previous volumes.
Howard Shelley turns in committed performances of Friedrich Kalkbrenner's compositions. Shelley's interpretations seem to fully realize the potential of this neglected music.
And this is music that needs a little help.
Audiences of the mid-19th century thought Friedrich Kalkbrenner one of
the best pianists of his day – an opinion he shared himself. When Chopin
arrived in Paris, he performed for Kalkbrenner. – who suggested that
after three years of study with him, Chopin just might make a decent
pianist! That inflated opinion of himself was the subject of satire
during his lifetime, and part of the reason why his music fell into
disrepute after his death. It's good to have it represented (especially
by a sympathetic performer), so we can judge the merits of Kalkbrenner's
music for ourselves.
Kalkbrenner, like many virtuosos of the day, composed music primarily
for his own use. The works on this recording were all written for
various concert tours, and so were created to do two things: appeal to
audiences with their tunefulness, and impress audiences with their
brilliant piano technique. They achieve both goals admirably.
The two concertos on this CD are written in a glittering, gallante
style, The musical language is a little conservative – think
Mendelssohn rather than Liszt – which keeps them from being truly great
compositions. While there are plenty of grand gestures and crashing
climaxes Kalkbrenner’s romanticism has a certain polite reserve.
This is music that’s meant to entertain.
And on that level, it succeeds. Kalkbrenner may have thought highly of
his talent, but if the piano solos in these works are any indication of
what he could do, it’s an opinion not without merit. Shelley’s hands
cascade down with complex arpeggiated patterns. They undulate up and
down the keyboard, riding waves of scale patterns that are both pretty
and pretty impressive.
Shelley performed the first and last of Kalkbrenner’s four piano concertos in volume 41 of the series (Kalkbrenner: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 4).
With this installment, he fills out the cycle with the two middle
concertos. Kalkbrenner’s music may be somewhat simple (in structure, if
not in execution), but that’s part of its appeal. I, for one, thoroughly