Moscheles composed eight numbered concertos between 1819 and 1838. No 2 in E flat major, published as Opus 56 in 1825 but composed and performed a few years earlier, makes a point of being both original and classical. Its opening gesture is a surprise, as it is for timpani alone (and it is worth pointing out that it antedated the famous opening of the Scherzo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony). But in the third measure we hear the stereotypical rhythm used by Mozart for the main theme in so many of his concertos (four beats, with a dotted rhythm on the second). The opening tutti presents all the main themes of the movement in the tonic key, a fading tradition that Beethoven had already challenged. These include a gentle second theme in triplets. The drum gesture returns for the closing theme of the tutti. As often with Mozart, the piano enters with a decorated version of the main theme, follows it up with its own new theme, and moves to the dominant key for its version of the second theme. Ever more rapid decorations lead to the first great climax, trill, and orchestral acclamation. The development section duly works on both main themes. The recapitulation leads to the second big cadence with still greater brilliance; there is no cadenza, and the orchestra rounds off the movement in the expected way.
The Adagio dispenses with drums, trumpets, and oboes. It starts with a smooth, curiously empty version of the drum motto. The piano material is ornately lyrical, and the only free cadenza in the work comes between the cadence on the dominant and the reprise. The finale is marked ‘Allegretto: tempo di polacca’, exploiting the enormous popularity of the polonaise as a ballroom dance at this time. After an introduction the drums again open the proceedings. The third drum is tuned to an unconventional pitch (C flat), on which the piano enters, starting what is otherwise a conventional polonaise, soon moving into skipping dotted notes. The second theme, after a big pause on the dominant, introduces inverted dotted rhythms (sometimes called the ‘Scotch snap’), and there is a third, quite unusual triplet theme for the piano. In the recapitulation the drumbeats come back, this time moving through remote keys before the procession of themes returns in the tonic and drives on to the inevitable bravura conclusion.
from notes by Nicholas Temperley © 2002