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Hyperion Records

CDA66729 - Weber: Piano Concertos
CDA66729

Recording details: April 1994
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: March 1995
Total duration: 57 minutes 4 seconds

'Unmitigated joy … I haven't enjoyed a concerto record more all year' (The Sunday Times)

'Brilliant performances' (Classic CD)

'Superlative performances' (The Scotsman)

'Demidenko is in his element with such music. His control of contrasting dynamics is astonishing, and the clarity of his passagework is unfaltering. Not the least exciting feature of these superb performances is the marvellously appropriate cadenza which Demidenko improvises for the first movement of the E flat Concerto. The recording is magnificent. Don't miss this one!' (Musical Opinion)

'Makellose Technik und musikalischen Verstand—eine Kombination, die man bei Pianisten heutzutage immer seltener antrifft. Und ganz nebenbei versprühen die Aufnahmen so viel Vitalität. Frische und erlichen Enthusiasmus, dass sie neben dem Interesse und der Neugierde auch die Stimmung des Hörers zu beflügeln verstehen' (Fono Forum, Germany)

'Scintillating performances' (Piano, Germany)

The Romantic Piano Concerto
Piano Concertos
Allegro  [8'47]
Adagio  [4'23]
Presto  [6'29]
Allegro maestoso  [8'57]
Adagio  [5'40]
Rondo: Presto  [6'56]
Tempo di Marcia  [1'48]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Composer, conductor, administrator, impresario, creative writer, acid critic, sometime painter, aspiring philosopher, classical symphonist, opera romantic, profound nationalist … blessed with the melodic flowering of a Mozart, the technical facility of a Mendelssohn … a man, conscious of his genius, ‘always honest and selfless in his dealings with his fellow men and with the art he loved’ (Autobiographical Sketch, Dresden, 14 March 1818) … put on a pedestal by all the post-Beethovenites, the inspiration of Mahler and Debussy, of Hindemith and Stravinsky: Carl Maria von Weber was, by universal consent, a great pianist in an age of great virtuosi. Beethoven apart, his piano music was in advance of almost anything else in late Napoleonic / early Biedermeier Europe. Unschooled, dependent on the tradition of neither Clementi nor Hummel, the pianistic forces of the day, his style inquiringly imaginative, he explored the resources of his instrument across its entire available compass. He took advantage of his gift for pearling runs and athletic leaps, thirds and sixths, octaves and glissandi. He exploited to the full his enormous long-fingered hand stretch of around a twelfth (notwithstanding the smaller-than-modern octave span of the Viennese Brodmann he preferred to play). ‘Having the advantage of a very large hand’, his student and biographer Sir Julius Benedict remembered in 1881, ‘and being able to play tenths with the same facility as octaves, Weber produced the most startling effects of sonority and possessed the power, like [Anton] Rubinstein, to elicit an almost vocal quality of tone where delicacy or deep expression were required.’

Weber’s two piano concertos date from 1810 and 1812, the Konzertstück from 1821. Weber himself gave the first performances of all three: the C major in Mannheim, 19 November 1810; the E flat in Gotha, 17 December 1812; and the Konzertstück, in Berlin, 25 June 1821.

The First has been called ‘a bridge between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with a stylistic foot in each’ (Neil Butterworth, 1994). Architecturally, the Mozartean antecedents of its first movement are not difficult to spot. Nor can a Beethoven debt be missed—notably, the triplet octave descent leading into the reprise, an idea clearly borrowed from the downward-rushing glissando octaves at the corresponding point of Beethoven’s own Concerto in C. But there is plenty of refreshing surprise, even so—the absence of a cadenza, for example. The extraordinary, rarefied chamber scoring of the A flat Adagio (for just two horns, viola, two cello soli and bass). And the brilliantly dancing, cross-rhythm style of the finale (‘full of boisterous and tempestuous zest’, Weber says), climaxing in a searing double-octave glissando, the exhilaration of which positively consumes the keyboard. How Weber so relished these mechanically brilliant effects.

According to his diary, Weber bought a copy of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ in early 1811. His response was to write a concerto not just in the same key, but complete with a partially muted string Adagio in B major and a rumbustiously galloping closing rondo in 6/8. The E flat Concerto is both Weber’s ‘Emperor’ and an eloquent Beethoven homage. Virtuoso keyboard figuration (arpeggios, octaves, thirds) and an optional cadenza (here improvised by the soloist) profile the first movement. The romantic Adagio Benedict called ‘a gem’. Its gran espressione, ringingly projected melody and powerful chordal climax, is unforgettable. On the one hand, the rondo (written first, in the autumn of 1811) deals in extrovert gestures and a wide-skipping, physically involving refrain. On the other, it is concerned with an extraordinary species of teasing, fragmented orchestration—witness the strange clarinet, flute and cello solos in the episode beginning bar 118, together with the subsequent (unpredictable) redistribution between piano and violin (bars 251 and following). The Second Concerto was a favourite ‘visiting card’ of Weber’s. He played it often, always to popular acclaim.

Admired by Liszt (who published his own version, with variants), the F minor Konzertstück was first mentioned in a letter to the critic Rochlitz, dated 14 March 1815. This makes clear that Weber from the outset had some kind of programmatic concerto format in mind, since, as he put it, ‘concertos in the minor without definite, evocative ideas seldom work with the public’ (he refers to parting, lament, profoundest misery, consolation, reunion, jubilation). Subsequently in 1821 (on 18 June, the day of the Berlin premiere of Der Freischütz), he played through a version to his wife, Caroline, and Julius Benedict, explaining (according to Benedict):

The lady sits in her tower: she gazes sadly into the distance. Her knight has been for years in the Holy Land: shall she ever see him again? Battles have been fought; but no news of him who is so dear to her. In vain have been all her prayers. A fearful vision rises to her mind—her knight is lying on the battlefield, deserted and alone; his heart’s blood is ebbing fast away. Could she but be by his side, could she but die with him! She falls exhausted and senseless. But hark! What is that distant sound? What glimmers in the sunlight from the wood? What are those forms approaching? Knights and squires with the cross of the Crusades, banners waving, acclamations of the people; and there!—it is he! She sinks into his arms. Love is triumphant. Happiness without end. The very woods and waves sing the song of love; a thousand voices proclaim its victory.

Weber neither wrote down nor prefaced the score with these words. But, loosely, they mirror something of the music’s incident.

Structurally, the work falls into four movements, played without a break—a slow introduction, a brilliant Allegro passionato, (an Adagio link), a skirling woodwind march, (a brisk transition), and a Presto giojoso 6/8 finale. Pianistically, the march is famous for just one solo entry—a blazing octave glissando into the fortissimo tutti, timed and placed to dramatic perfection within a context otherwise inconsequential. The whooping glissandi of the finale are as electrifying.

Ates Orga © 1995


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