Draeseke’s three-movement Piano Concerto in E flat major Op 36 was composed in 1885–6, and clearly demonstrates the more traditional elements creeping stealthily into the music of this erstwhile lion of the avant-garde. The Adagio slow movement, a fairly straightforward set of variations on a hymn-like theme initially presented by the piano, harks virtually back to Beethoven. It is, indeed, rather obviously indebted to the similar slow movement of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto (in the same key as Draeseke’s), without, alas, reaching the rapt intensity of the earlier master’s music. The first variation, characterized by alternating figures in sixths, further reminds us that the later nineteenth century was also the era of Brahms, and those listeners who know the slow movement of Brahms’s F minor Piano Sonata will notice some striking echoes here. But this remains the only Brahmsian allusion in the Concerto, for both the first movement, with its vigorously assertive principal theme, and the last movement, a rambunctious scherzo-finale in 6/8 time, confirm that Draeseke’s model was certainly Beethoven. The quasi improvisatory dialogue between soloist and orchestra that so assertively opens the work once again has origins in the initial flourish of the ‘Emperor’, and Beethoven’s finale is also a rollicking movement in 68. Yet Draeseke’s Concerto is hardly a slavish copy of his great predecessor’s. The piano writing, with its plethora of alternating octaves and cascading chords, is very much in the late-Romantic style, and shows that Draeseke’s years with Liszt in Weimar were not entirely wasted. The orchestration, too, is vivid and colourful. There is much to enjoy here, and even if the Concerto’s melodic inspiration is ultimately not the equal of its slick craftsmanship, the piece as a whole hardly deserves the deep oblivion to which it has been consigned over the last hundred years.
from notes by Kenneth Hamilton © 2009