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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67595
Recording details: December 2006
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Phil Rowlands
Release date: October 2007
Total duration: 27 minutes 23 seconds

'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)

'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 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)

'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)

'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 Newspapers)

'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' (The Federation of Recorded Music News)

Piano Concerto No 4 in F minor, Op 19
composer
first performed in the Leipzig Gewandhaus, 17 January 1839, Bennett at the piano, Mendelssohn conducting; original second movement 'A Stroll through the Meadows' discarded in 1838

Allegro con maesta  [11'46]
Presto: Agitato  [7'42]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
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.

from notes by Elizabeth French © 2007

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