Hyperion Records

Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor
1892/4; Vienna; dedicated to Monsieur Louis Bösendorfer; first performed in Berlin in a shortened version (Conzertstück) on 20 August 1895 by Melcer, conducted by Karl Klindworth; first complete performance on 24 January 1896

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Movement 1: Maestoso
Movement 2: Andantino
Movement 3: Vivo ma non troppo e poi molto accelerando

Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor
Melcer composed his Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor in Vienna in 1892–4, while under the tutelage of Leschetizky. Written in the style of Liszt and Chopin, the work is dedicated ‘À Monsieur Louis Bösendorfer’. The composer created a truncated version of the concerto entitled Conzertstück, which he submitted with his Piano Trio in G minor and the first two piano miniatures from Trois morceaux caractéristiques to the Second Anton Rubinstein Competition. Twenty-two of the twenty-six jurors voted to award Melcer the competition’s Composition Prize in Berlin in 1895. Members of the jury included Professor Johansen of the St Petersburg Conservatory (as chairman), Salomon Jadassohn from Leipzig, Charles-Marie Widor from the Paris Conservatory, Vasily Il’ich Safonov from the Moscow Conservatory, and Asger Hamerick, director of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

One of the requirements of the competition was to submit a Conzertstück for piano. Since this genre usually consists of a work for solo instrument and orchestra, played in one movement or without breaks between movements, Melcer had no problem editing his monothematic concerto for the competition. He simply eliminated the first movement in E minor, Maestoso, with its brilliant culminating fugato, and began instead with the Andantino, the second movement. There is no pause between the short second movement and the final movement in E major, Vivo ma non troppo e poi molto accelerando. This finale is marked by its strong Polish character: starting as a mazurka, a dance form in triple metre with accents on the second or third beat, the accelerando through the movement increases the excitement of the piece, giving it the frenzy of a kujawiak or oberek.

The first performance of the truncated version of this work took place in Berlin on 20 August 1895, with Melcer performing with an ad hoc orchestra under the direction of Karl Klindworth, who shared the competition’s conducting responsibilities with Ferruccio Busoni, laureate of the First Anton Rubinstein Competition in 1890. On 24 January 1896, the full concerto was performed by the composer in Lwów (now L’viv in Ukraine). Melcer performed the work with the orchestra of the Galician Musical Society, with Rudolf Schwarz conducting. In addition to his own concerto, Melcer also performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 and a group of works for solo piano by Brahms, Chopin, Grieg and Liszt. Ludwig Doblinger in Vienna first published Melcer’s first concerto in 1904; fifty years later, it was reissued by Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (PWM) in Cracow, edited by the late pianist Maria Wilkomirska, sister of the famous Polish violinist Wanda Wilkomirska.

Michael Ponti made the first commercial recording of the concerto, with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Tadeusz Strugala, in 1980. Historic performances of the work include one by Jerzy Lalewicz (who received a piano diploma at the Third Anton Rubinstein Competition in 1900) with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on 27 November 1909. During that same year Ignacy Friedman performed the work in Warsaw, having already played it with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on 10 January 1907. Helena Ottawowa, who had been a student of both Melcer and later of Zygmunt Stojowski in Paris, performed Melcer’s concerto at least four times: in 1925 with the Warsaw Philharmonic, in 1936 with Polish Radio in Lódz´ and in 1925 and 1931 in Lwów where Ottawowa directed a private music school.

Performances in Great Britain were fewer and further between and not quite as enthusiastically received as they had been in Poland and Germany. A critic for The Musical Times reviewed Marguerite Melville’s performance of 8 November 1911 with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood, writing that the composition had ‘no exceptional value’, but that it ‘was quite worth hearing once’.

from notes by Joseph A Herter © 2008

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