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Hyperion Records

CDA67365 - Scharwenka: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3
CDA67365

Recording details: December 1996
Großer Sendesaal, Funkhaus, Hannover des NDR, Germany
Produced by John H West
Engineered by Björn Brigsne
Release date: July 2003
Total duration: 78 minutes 30 seconds

'an admirable addition to an admirable series. The recordings retain their original excellence and Tadeusz Strugula and the German orchestra back their stylish soloist to the hilt' (Gramophone)

'there is a meaty flamboyance to both these concertos, giving them a personality of their own. Seta Tanyel brings to them an impressive strength of purpose and a rhapsodic lyrical spirit that project the music with appealing panache' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Seta Tanyel's outstanding performances are suffused with the very epitome of the romantic soul' (American Record Guide)

The Romantic Piano Concerto
Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3
Allegro  [20'37]
Adagio  [10'46]
Maestoso  [15'48]
Adagio  [9'20]
Allegro non troppo  [12'49]

Continuing her inspiring series of discs exploring the solo piano repertory of the Polish Romantic, Xaver Scharwenka, Seta Tanyel here turns her attention to two of his four piano concertos. These unashamedly appealing works should by no means be judged by their relative unfamiliarty; they are among the most impressive of all the neglected concertos championed in our series, as Stephen Hough’s Gramophone Award winning recording of the 4th concerto (CDA66790) has shown. In the capable hands of Tanyel, the 2nd and 3rd concertos are rich with the harmonic poise of Schumann, the melodic coquettishness of Chopin and even the passion of Rachmaninov; a disc as enlightening as it is thrilling.

Although previously issued on Collins Classics, this recording was one of the last issued before the demise of the label, and did not therefore benefit from a wide circulation. We are delighted to reissue it in our Romantic Piano Concerto series where it will surely gain the recognition it deserves.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
During the second half of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, the big Romantic piano concerto evolved into full maturity and began its subsequent fall into decline—all within the lifetime of Franz Xaver Scharwenka (1850–1924). Sadly, of the hundreds of such works composed during this period only a mere handful, scarcely into double figures, feature with any regularity in today’s concert programmes. The oblivion into which much of this repertoire has fallen can perhaps be accounted for by the initial reaction and consequent bias against the achievements and accomplishments of the Romantic era in general, caused by changing ideals and fashions during the early, cataclysmic years of the twentieth century. Today, however, these arguments are of little relevance and this neglect is all the more unjustifiable the more one actually considers the music itself—music which is in many cases well written and, above all, unashamedly tuneful and appealing to the listener. Scharwenka’s four piano concertos are typical examples and their reapppearance in the concert hall would surely be welcomed by today’s audiences as providing a much-needed ‘breath of fresh air’.

Although born in what was to become Poland after the 1914–1918 war, Scharwenka received his musical education in Berlin at Theodor Kullak’s Neue Akademie der Tonkunst from 1865, where he studied piano with Kullak himself who in turn had been a pupil of Carl Czerny. The Polish influence from his early years left a lasting impression, together with the thorough German training in Berlin, which was to become his spiritual home for the rest of his life. Of particular importance in his creative development was the music of Schumann, and although Chopin’s influence is perhaps generally less evident, he knew his compatriot’s music well and performed it often.

In 1868 he joined Kullak’s teaching staff, and the following year made his successful debut as a pianist at the Berlin Singakademie. The same year also saw the appearance in print of his first compositions, which had been accepted by the famous German publishers Breitkopf und Härtel. These included some chamber music and his first set of Polish National Dances, Op 3 (recorded on Helios CDH55131), the first of which became immensely popular and virtually ensured Scharwenka his fame and success, with copies sold being counted in millions. Having completed the required military service in 1874, he set off as a travelling virtuoso, establishing his reputation both as performer and composer. In 1877 he completed his First Piano Concerto, Op 32 in B flat minor, the first performance of which was greeted with critical acclaim and soon endorsed by many of the leading pianists of the day.

It was just over three years later that the Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor appeared, and, with the composer as soloist, was given its premiere in Vienna on 12 December 1880, followed by a performance at the Allgemeinen Deutsches Musikverein in Magdeburg in June of the following year. Although he had been specifically commended for his originality in the first concerto, with the second Scharwenka adopted a more conservative approach, returning to classical sonata form, and looking back to the concertos of Chopin and Hummel as his role models, but within the musical idiom of the later nineteenth century. Obviously, some reviewers were critical, but others were more enthusiastic considering the new work to be superior to its predecessor, and praised it as a work of distinction and finesse, clear in form with perfect balance between the orchestra and soloist. Furthermore, it was well received by the public and was yet another success for the composer, who performed it frequently.

The concerto falls into the normal three-movement pattern (fast–slow–fast), with the first movement Allegro being the most substantial and offering a rich contrast between the principal statement together with its subsidiary themes, and the extended lyrical second subject. The technical demands on the pianist are considerable and ample evidence of Scharwenka’s own remarkable abilities as a performer, although he was at the same time renowned for his fine sense of judgement and musicianship, and consequently the virtuosic piano writing never seems superfluous.

The second movement, Adagio, owes more than a little to Chopin, especially in the first theme which is given unaccompanied to the piano after a short introduction from the strings of the orchestra. However, as the movement develops, so Scharwenka finds his own identity, and after building several climaxes closes with an air of tranquillity, leaving us perfectly poised for the finale. Scharwenka’s Polish origins are echoed in the main subject of the third movement, Allegro non troppo, which is distinctly Eastern European, perhaps also with a slightly Yiddish colouring, although there is no evidence to suggest that Scharwenka had any Jewish family connections. The movement basically follows a rondo format, with the coda reintroducing material from the first movement, bringing the concerto to a brilliant conclusion in the affirmative key of C major.

A period of some eighteen years separated the second and third concertos, during which time Scharwenka opened his own conservatory in Berlin (1881), following this in 1891 by opening a branch in New York after his successful first concert tour of America. Scharwenka and his family actually lived in the USA for seven years but he finally decided to return to Germany for good in 1898, and he relates an amusing little episode in his autobiography (Klänge aus meinem Leben, 1922), which took place on the return voyage. He had settled down in a quiet corner of the dining room on board to work on the score of his Third Piano Concerto when he was approached by a butter-dealer from Baltimore who asked why he was writing the music out by hand, when printed sheet music could now be bought so cheaply!

The first performance of the Piano Concerto No 3 in C sharp minor, with Scharwenka himself as soloist once again, marked his welcome return to Berlin as a performer in January 1899 after a seven-year absence, and he had a magnificent reception. The third concerto is symphonically much stronger than the second, where the emphasis is very much on the soloist. Here the piano and orchestra are much more integrated. Thematically Scharwenka tends to follow Liszt’s example with regard to cyclic form, and although he still retains the three separate movements (the finale follows the second without a break), the main theme from the first movement is varied in lyrical form in the second, and it appears as the main theme in the third movement also, this time with rhythmic variation. Again, in the finale, as with the second concerto, Scharwenka reminds us of his Polish origins.

Martin Eastick © 2003


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