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Hyperion Records

CDA66747 - Albert: Piano Concertos
CDA66747

Recording details: May 1994
Govan Town Hall, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Kime
Release date: November 1994
DISCID: 770F5809
Total duration: 65 minutes 18 seconds

MUSICA ECCEZIONALE!, MUSICA, ITALY

'As usual for this series, the performances are beyond reproach … one could not imagine a better advocate' (Gramophone)

'Brilliantly performed … an unqualified success … In Hyperion's outstanding 'Romantic Piano Concerto' series this is one of the most successful issues yet, very well recorded' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'Two formidable concertos, brilliantly performed. One of the most successful issues in Hyperion's outstanding Romantic Piano Concerto series' (The Guardian)

The Romantic Piano Concerto
Piano Concertos
Mässig  [17'04]
Erstes Zeitmass  [11'30]
Cadenza  [2'53]
Mässig bewegt  [7'38]
Langsam  [6'46]
Sehr lebhaft  [2'15]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
When d’Albert appeared in 1881 at one of Hans Richter’s concerts in London he played his own Piano Concerto in A, but the work was never published and has not survived. However, from a review in The Musical Times of November 1881 we can reasonably deduce that the Concerto had the traditional three movements. The reviewer stated that it was ‘uncompromising in its pretensions to rank with the chief of its kind; largely developed, ambitious in style and character, and rigidly observant of classical form, while redundant in matter’.

This criticism remains a common one to be directed at composers so young, and is hardly surprising given the stubborn confidence we know d’Albert had in his work. However, limited note does seem to have been taken since three years elapsed before the appearance of the B minor Concerto, Op 2 (which is now known as the ‘First’). It was dedicated to Liszt and the title page of the score indicates the work to be in einem Satz (in one movement). It still betrays an excessive desire to display the pianistic virtuosity of which d’Albert was so justly proud, but this becomes fused with considerable imaginative and creative ability. Despite being slightly over-indulgent on occasions, especially in the piano writing, the melodic content is sufficiently strong to sustain the listener’s interest and attention over a span longer in duration than that of many a concerto with the usual three movements.

Although broadly working around an extended A-B-A form, d’Albert adds a substantial and innovative fugal cadenza before moving on to a short scherzo section where he reworks the main opening theme of the Concerto in 6/8 time. The work concludes in typically grandiose style. The B minor Concerto is a young composer’s tour de force and a reminder that at heart d’Albert remained a pianist rather than a composer.

Concerto No 2 in E major, Op 12, lasting for just under half the duration of the ‘First’ Concerto, provides something of a contrast. It dates from 1893, by which time time d’Albert had reached maturity as a composer. This Concerto is also in one movement and cyclic in form, but consists of four basic contrasting sections flowing into each other. D’Albert uses his thematic material quite sparingly, but it is well developed in its various guises throughout the Concerto’s more coherent structure. In the same year d’Albert staged Der Rubin, the first of his twenty or so operas. He met with little success in this venture, but never returned to serious composition for the instrument he so loved.

Ebenezer Prout, that venerable arch-conservative representative of the Victorian English musical establishment, Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir John Stainer had all worked to coach the reluctant composer in his early life, but d’Albert’s musical language and roots hardly shifted from the romanticism of mid-nineteenth-century Germany. His inspiration came from Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, and even Wagner. Nonetheless, d’Albert’s compositional achievements stand and, as these two Concertos show, he certainly could produce music to command the attention: music which deserves treatment far less dismissive than the oblivion in which it has languished. Revival is long overdue, and the melodic appeal and skilful craftsmanship of these works deserve to win many devotees in the modern world of over-standardized and unadventurous concert-programming.

Martin Eastick © 1994


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