'Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series is back on top form with this delightful coupling of works by two English composers … The concerto by Francis Bache receives a much-deserved world premiere recording. If you like the concertos of Mendelssohn then you are sure to fall for these. Few pianists can match Shelley in this repertoire - sparkling, crisp articulation, graceful phrasing, and heartfelt lyricism. And all this while conducting from the keyboard. How does he do it?' (Classic FM Magazine *****)
'The Concerto (arguably the best of Bennett's extant concertos) has substantial strengths … It is wonderfully interpreted in this reading, which - with Howard Shelley conducting from the keyboard - has a superb 'one-ness' of conception and realisation … Bache's Concerto … is a quite original and surprisingly successful composition. Structurally, the three movements are continuous and run into each other with a mastery which is wholly remarkable, as are the changes of mood within each movement … Shelley is equally fine in this performance, delivering an account which is musically and technically first-rate in every regard, and demonstrating facets of his artistry which are not so widely appreciated as they certainly deserve to be … Shelley and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra give quite enthralling and deeply impressive performances throughout this disc, and the recording is magnificent. Elizabeth French contributes excellent booklet notes' (International Record Review)
'Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series, a wealth of novelties and delights, has reached its 43rd issue … Neither composer could wish for a more persuasive advocate than Howard Shelley, who, in his customary role as soloist and conductor, gives us an air-spun brilliance and stylistic elegance very much his own. Most refined of virtuosos, he has been admirably presented and recorded' (Gramophone)
'Bennett's sparkling Fourth Piano Concerto, with its lightly worn debts to Mendelssohn and Schumann … the flights of lyrical fancy that make Bennett's piano-writing so engaging. As soloist and conductor, Howard Shelley makes the best possible case for both works' (The Guardian)
'Bache's individual style and skill in orchestration are unmistakable … It is a masterly work, consisting of three movements linked by piano cadenzas that crewate the impression of a single movement. Strong vivace passages alternate with lyrical elements, the overall work showing a freshness, undoubted musicality and skill in orchestration. The distinguished pianist/conductor Howard Shelley with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra gives an impeccable performance that will surely stimulate interest in a composer whose early death was a great loss to the English tradition and whose work deserves to be explored' (Federation of Recorded Music News)
'Howard Shelley’s recording is superb and in full and lustrous. Sterndale Bennett’s writing is sparkly and agile and Shelley is infinitely dextrous in response. It’s interesting that Mendelssohn conducted the work, for there is much that is Mendelssohnian in it. The virtuosity is of the fluent, sophisticated variety. Yet there is also, rather daringly, a single-line melody (most affecting, too) for piano, simply accompanied by pizzicato strings. The slow movement is a ‘Barcarole’ and has an easy-flow basic rhythm that enables the melodic lines to flourish. A more dramatic middle section finds Shelley impassioned in his delivery of it. This is not the original middle movement; Sterndale Bennett had written (as he called it) a “Stroll through the meadows”, but this had failed to gain any popularity. The fiery middle section gives the concerto some emotional depth. The by turns sturdy and capricious finale forms an apt conclusion' (ClassicalSource.com)
'Those of you who have a particular interest in British music will certainly wish to explore the repertoire on this CD. Francis Edward Bache (1833-1858) was a pupil of Sterndale Bennett but died tragically young of TB. The manuscript of his concerto has been in the library of the Royal Academy of Music and might never have been performed until now. Howard Shelley has a way of bringing this music to life; in other hands, it could sound banal. The second movement of Sterndale Bennett's concerto was one of the composer's favourite pieces and, it became very popular and appeared in many arrangements. While there have been other recordings of WSB's concerto, this is certainly one of the finest' (Braille News)
' Shelley plays … with felicity and an almost palpable devotion to the repertoire and Hyperion’s engineers present the music with just the right combination of clarity and ambience' (Fanfare, USA)
Allegro con maesta [11'46]
Presto: Agitato [7'42]
Allegro non troppo [10'47]
Allegro non assai [7'58]
The Romantic Piano Concerto series returns to England, and explores further fascinating and little-known repertoire. Indeed, the concerto by Francis Edward Bache (1833–1858) has perhaps never been performed. The composer, a pupil of Sterndale Bennett, and acclaimed at a young age by contemporaries all over Europe as a prodigious talent of whom great things were expected, died of TB at the age of 25, leaving the manuscript of his Piano Concerto in the library of the Royal Academy of Music, where it has languished until this recording. This enchanting work is a great discovery. Also on the disc are two accomplished works by the composer-pianist Sterndale Bennett. The indefatigable Howard Shelley directs the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from the piano.
Other recommended albums
The musical life of nineteenth-century Britain has long been regarded as a historical low-point in terms of composition. As the fascination with the music of Handel began to wane, the works of the great composers of Europe took centre stage in British concert halls. A perusal of any good history of music will show that there were many British composers working in the nineteenth century, but very few come immediately to mind when we consider the canon. Recent research, however, is beginning to uncover many previously ignored works which could form the foundations of a revival of interest in English music of this period.
This disc presents works by two composers: one is recognized as a stalwart of the British musical establishment, whilst the other could be regarded as the young pretender, who never quite got the chance to shine. The link between the two, apart from the obvious teacher–pupil relationship, is that both found their inspiration, and initial fame, in Leipzig.
William Sterndale Bennett was born in Sheffield in 1816, the son of an organist. Orphaned at a young age, he was brought up by his grandparents and sang in the choir at King’s College, Cambridge, before being enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music at the age of ten. His first symphony, published while he was a student there, attracted the attention of Felix Mendelssohn, and in 1836, with money left to him by his mother, he went to Leipzig to meet the great composer personally, and was taken on as a student. Studying assiduously, he discussed music and composition with both Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, who was later to dedicate his Études symphoniques to Bennett. Although Bennett returned to England and made London his permanent base, he was to visit Leipzig regularly between 1838 and 1842.
The Caprice in E major, Op 22, received its premiere (under the later discarded title L’hilarité) in London on 25 May 1838 at Bennett’s annual benefit concert, with the composer at the piano. However, it was almost certainly conceived two years prior to that, as a letter from Bennett to James W Davison (music critic of The Times and a friend of Bennett from his teenage years) in November 1836 implies that a first version of the work had been completed and was ready to be performed in Leipzig the following month. Although this performance never materialized, the work was introduced in Leipzig on 21 February 1839, and performed there again in January 1842.
Ignaz Moscheles described the work as ‘spirited and interesting’; Schumann noted the performance in his diary, but left commenting upon it to ‘Z’ in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. It was there written that ‘the Capriccio is a lovely flower bouquet, fresh and fragrant, graceful, fine and beautifully coloured, and as concerns its inner worth, at the same time so modest’. Schumann himself reviewed the score a year later, seemingly believing it to be a new work. And whilst he stated that ‘this Capriccio shares all the excellences we have so often praised in the compositions of this most distinguished of living English composers’, he expressed concern that Bennett’s ‘power of invention has seemed to decline’. Had the Caprice reached him in its proper chronological order this view would, perhaps, have been somewhat different.
The work begins with two solo statements on the piano, accompanied occasionally by pizzicato strings, an opening that could be regarded as strange for a concerted work. As one would expect from a virtuoso pianist-composer, there are plenty of areas of passagework traditional to the form, but also some beautiful moments of interplay between the solo instrument and the orchestra. The British composer Geoffrey Bush (1920–1998) suggested that some of the material used in the Caprice was destined for Bennett’s B minor symphony, which was subsequently abandoned and lost.
Somewhat curiously, when the work was submitted to Friedrich Kistner for publication in 1839, he found that there was no extant complete piano part. On questioning the composer he was told that, as Bennett always played the work from memory, no such copy had previously been required. The work is dedicated to Madame Louise Dulcken (1811–1850), sister of the German violinist Ferdinand David and an émigré pianist who counted Queen Victoria among her pupils. Dulcken described the work as charming in a letter to the composer.
The Piano Concerto No 4 in F minor, Op 19, was another work which Bennett took to Leipzig in 1838, and it is dedicated to Ignaz Moscheles, the pianist who taught and befriended the young Mendelssohn and later became Principal of the Conservatory in Leipzig. Its public premiere was on 17 January 1839 at the Gewandhaus, with Bennett at the piano and Mendelssohn conducting.
This work follows the traditional form of the early-Romantic virtuoso concerto, although in a way different to the works of ‘Parisian’ virtuosos such as Alkan or Thalberg. Schumann, reviewing the score in 1840, notes that ‘nothing in the entire concerto is calculated for bravura display and applause, he only cares to display the composition itself’. Nevertheless, the first and third movements provide ample opportunity for the composer-pianist to show off his technique, with flowering passagework and some brilliant figuration.
As with his other concertos, Bennett uses the lyrical capacity of the piano to its fullest, writing passages in the first movement for a single-line melody on the piano accompanied by pizzicato strings. In the recapitulation, however, this solo line is placed in counterpoint to a solo flute, which has the effect of drawing the listener further into the otherwise sparse texture. Schumann wrote that the work as a whole ‘contains an abundance of fine melodies’ and that ‘the last movement is quite humorous … but his lyric nature penetrates here also’.
The second movement we hear today is not the one originally written for the concerto. A different movement, entitled A Stroll through the Meadows, was included in the first performance of the work, an informal run-through with an orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music in London in September 1838, just prior to Bennett’s departure for Leipzig. Apparently this movement failed to totally please even then, and after playing the work privately to Mendelssohn in October he decided to replace it with a Barcarole, as revealed by his diary entry written four days after this meeting: ‘I have been writing my little Barcarolle [sic] from memory as I intend playing it in my new Concerto.’ The Barcarole was very well received, both at the first and subsequent performances, and became something of a favourite with Bennett’s audiences. It was variously arranged for piano solo, organ, and for three voices and piano (with a text entitled To a Nightingale at Mid-day).
It is, perhaps, a sorry aside to note that A Stroll through the Meadows was rejected as the slow movement to an F minor concerto not once, but twice. Bennett’s first (never published) attempt at a concerto in this key, for his prize concert at the Royal Academy in July 1836, had also included a version of the piece as the slow movement, but it was replaced on the eve of the concert by an earlier (and somewhat different) manifestation of the Barcarole.
After an absence of some years, Bennett took to the concert platform to perform the F minor Concerto with the Orchestral Union in June 1853, at the Hanover Square Rooms. It was, according to The Musical World, a ‘magnificent performance’, and proved to be his last concert appearance as piano soloist. After this date, he dedicated himself more to conducting (having founded the Bach Society in 1849 he conducted the English premiere of the St Matthew Passion in 1854, and in 1856 succeeded Wagner as conductor of the Philharmonic Society Concerts in London). He had become increasingly involved in teaching since his marriage in 1844 to Mary Anne Wood, but this workload grew to such an extent that, according to his son, in 1851 he was ‘finding it impossible to get ten days in succession for a holiday, even in summer’. Bennett was knighted in 1871, and died in 1875; he is buried in Westminster Abbey, not far from the tomb of Henry Purcell.
We have met with no Englishman more likely to give us the English composer for whom we have so long been waiting than Mr Bache.
Francis Edward Bache was born in Birmingham in September 1833, the son of a Unitarian Minister. As a child he was a keen musician, playing the piano by the age of four and later performing as a violinist in the orchestra when Mendelssohn conducted his Elijah at the Birmingham triennial festival in 1846. His parents hoped that he would go to Leipzig to study under Mendelssohn, but the German’s death in 1847 led to him going instead, in 1849, to study with Bennett in London. He followed four years there with a period of study with Moritz Hauptmann in Leipzig, meeting composers including Berlioz, Czerny and Liszt (whom his brother Walter was later to champion), and a year later moved on to Paris. Thereafter, the death of his mother in 1854, and then his continuing ill health (whisperings of which had begun as early as 1849), forced him to make England his base, albeit he hoped temporarily.
Bache returned to Leipzig, and then travelled to Italy in 1856, eager to spend time studying Italian opera in more depth. His plan to move away from German models is illustrated by a letter he wrote to a friend in 1856: ‘I have played lately much of Schumann’s music, and every successive piece increases my dislike to it in toto.’ However, his health once again intervened, and he returned to England in the summer of 1857. His hope that ‘I may live many years I believe by taking great care’ was not to be realized: he died of tuberculosis at the family home in Birmingham in August 1858.
In an interesting parallel to Bennett’s fourth concerto, Bache’s Piano Concerto in E major, Op 18, also underwent more than one incarnation. His first attempt dates from 1851, and Bache performed what was probably the first movement in a concert in Hanover Square in June 1852, but the work recorded here was completed in Leipzig in 1856. Whilst the only similarity between the two concertos is the first theme of the first movement (which is identical, and almost identically orchestrated in the first statement), the differences are vast. The later work is a far more polished composition, and consists of three movements which are linked by piano cadenzas, thus creating the impression of a single-movement, through-composed work.
There is no evidence that a contemporary performance of the 1856 concerto ever took place, but it is known that when he passed through Vienna in November 1856 Bache played at least some of it to Carl Czerny. Czerny wrote to the German music publisher Julius Kistner (who was also an acquaintance and posthumous publisher of Bache) that Bache ‘possesses a sound and just appreciation of accepted classical form and of natural melody’. He also praised Bache’s piano-playing and his skill in orchestration.
The best evidence of any performance is that, in 1909, the Birmingham-based organist and musicologist Samuel Royle Shore (1856–1946) arranged the orchestral part for a second piano (although this could have been simply for personal study). Royle Shore had been the organist at a service and recital in memory of Bache given in Birmingham the previous year, on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, and perhaps he hoped to attempt a revival of Bache’s music on the back of this event. There is, however, currently no source material to confirm whether any performance was ever organized, and Royle Shore’s manuscripts, along with Bache’s originals, ended up in the library at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where they have languished ever since.
Interestingly, the overall key structure of the work points back to Beethoven’s first piano concerto, almost certainly via Mendelssohn’s concerto for two pianos, which like Bache’s concerto is in E major with a middle movement in C major. This modulation to the flattened submediant, which was seen in some quarters as slightly outdated by the mid-nineteenth century, is well pointed up by the use Bache makes of G major in the first movement, and by the way C major is recapitulated at the crucial moment in the last movement.
And in fact Mendelssohn can be seen as providing a model at other points as well, most notably at the beginning of the link into the slow movement, where the piano part appears to quote from the first movement of his violin concerto. It is known that Bache played the orchestral reduction of this work for violinist John Carrodus in 1851, and, whilst it does not appear in the earlier concerto, a quotation this blatant can surely only be taken as a direct nod of appreciation for inspiration.
The frontispiece to the 1851 concerto made very plain where Bache felt his influences were to be found: ‘by Francis Bache (pupil of W. Sterndale Bennett)’. By the time Bache prepared the 1856 manuscript the reference to his former teacher was removed, and replaced by a title page entirely in French, except for the dedication: ‘respectfully … to Miss Strutt of Derwent Bank’ (who was a friend of Bache’s mother). The possible reasons for this are several: whilst it is feasible that he no longer wanted to be associated with the style in which Bennett wrote, it is more probable that he was simply attempting to associate with the upper-class predilection for foreign art.
Whatever the reasons, Bache had made it clear that he did not wish to follow the career path taken by his former tutor. In a letter to his father in May 1856, he wrote: ‘I have always wished to be an artist, not a professor … no young artist has ever grown up and ripened into a respectable maturity in England.’ However, writing in 1902, J A Fuller Maitland (music editor of The Times) said that ‘his ideas are always fresh, owing nothing to the various foreign influences to which he was subjected, and his treatment, even though it may strike some modern listeners as a little timid, is uniformly musical’.
Elizabeth French © 2007
Other albums in this series
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 24 – Vianna da Motta
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67163
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 37 – Nápravník & Blumenfeld
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67511
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 38 – Rubinstein & Scharwenka
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67508
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Żeleński
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67958