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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: 12 minutes 49 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)

Caprice in E major, Op 22
composer
first performed on 25 May 1838; probably written in 1836; originally entitled L'hilarité

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
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.

from notes by Elizabeth French © 2007

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