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Piano Concerto No 5 in C major, Op 87
The Piano Concerto No 5 in C major, Op 87, was the first concerto Moscheles composed after he settled in London and the first of his ‘later’ period; it is dedicated to his friend and fellow-composer Sigismund Neukomm. The work took shape over a period of several years. The first movement was composed in the summer of 1826, during a tranquil six-week holiday spent with his wife’s relations in the north German countryside. But Moscheles, deep in the creation of his 24 Studies, seems to have put the concerto to one side, the Adagio being written some five years later. The complete work was probably heard for the first time at a Philharmonic Society concert in London in March 1832. Its popularity, like that of its successors, never rivalled that of the earlier concertos, perhaps on account of the increasingly exploratory element in his musical language, and the thoughtful qualities that lend so much of the music its delicate and subtle sensibility.

The first movement, broad in conception and deeply rooted in the classical tradition, is built from simple motifs whose gentleness conceals their innate strength. The more graceful and flowing second subject shows the composer’s innocente musical character. A harmonically bold orchestral passage takes the music down into E minor, introducing a development section in which the soloist explores a wide range of tonalities and ideas. At last the oboe signals the imminent return of the opening, which however almost qualifies as another development in its own right – starting fortissimo, it follows entirely new harmonic paths, compressing and reworking the original material in a manner truly worthy of his idol Beethoven. Trumpets end the movement with a ringing restatement of the four opening notes.

The Adagio in E minor, one of the loveliest movements Moscheles ever wrote, can perhaps be seen as bridging the gap between Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony. Violas and a pizzicato bass support the opening cello melody, a reversal of roles that lends the tune a wonderful depth of feeling and a sort of innocent purity. We enter a more chromatic passage with tragic undertones, and then the horns introduce a passage in the major key filled with an almost religious tenderness. The mood swings between resolute confidence and deep sorrow until the orchestra dies away, leaving the piano to sing the opening theme on its own, before the horn and timpani guide the movement solemnly to a quiet ending.

The playful finale, which starts with an overt homage to Beethoven’s C minor Concerto, has at times quite a rustic flavour, particularly in the horn writing. After a pastoral theme in the dominant, there comes a specially charming figure of falling trills which serves to unite a movement in which nothing, even the fugal passage, is intended to be taken quite seriously. At one point Sullivan comes irresistibly to mind – though not yet born, he was to be Moscheles’ pupil in Leipzig. Piano and orchestra indulge in quickfire dialogue, the soloist enjoys some virtuoso fireworks, a theme returns in disguise at half-speed, and in the più mosso coda the piano completes its contribution to the proceedings with a triumphant glissando and the orchestra ends on its own.

from notes by Henry Roche © 2005
English: Hyperion Records Ltd

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