Hyperion Records

1897; published in 1900; composer for Paderewski who gave the first performance at Queen's Hall on 28 June 1900 at a Philharmonic Society concert

'Somervell & Cowen: Piano Concertos' (CDA67837)
Somervell & Cowen: Piano Concertos
Track 1 on CDA67837 [19'52]

Cowen’s youthful Piano Concerto was performed by the seventeen-year-old composer at St James’s Hall in 1869; but, nearly thirty years on, when he came to write his Concertstück for piano and orchestra, that early concerto had long been forgotten, and indeed, along with many of his early works, the music is lost. The Concertstück was written in 1897 for the celebrated Polish pianist Paderewski and was first performed by him at the Philharmonic Society’s concert at Queen’s Hall on 28 June 1900. In his autobiography Cowen wrote how before the performance he ‘went over to Paris for a few days to work up the music with him [Paderewski] and to make sundry revisions and elaborate certain of the passages to suit his immense technique … Not taking into consideration a very early concerto, the Concertstück was the first work [for piano and orchestra] I had written, and its performance at the Philharmonic, through his fine interpretation, proved very brilliant and effective.’ Perhaps remembering Liszt’s Piano Concerto in E flat major, the scoring includes a triangle among the percussion.

The music of this twenty-minute movement plays continuously, but falls into several sections. A clarinet opens proceedings with a lamenting theme punctuated by solemn chords. The scoring of this introduction is delightful, and soon coloured with horn tone. The piano takes up the theme and quickly introduces a falling dotted motif that reappears throughout and returns in triumph at the end. Cowen, no mean pianist himself, constantly leaves his soloist with little accompaniment. The music works up to a climax. Eventually, with a cadenza, the soloist takes us into a twelve-bar linking section, A tempo moderato, which Cowen scores with the light touch for which he was celebrated, the harp prominent and the violins reduced to just four players. The following Molto allegro leads to a contrasted piano idyll—Tempo tranquillo—all rounded by a cadenza and coda in which both themes appear.

Cowen now uses the triangle to colour a L’istesso tempo section (the time signature changes, to 2/4, but the apparent tempo does not). This is in G minor and again is introduced by the solo piano. The music proceeds in high spirits and with much piano display, the strings eventually finding a lyrical version of the falling motif.

The recapitulation starts with the piano repeating the 2/4 theme and there follows a succession of short sections, effectively contrasted variations, notably three delightful episodes in which both piano and orchestra are treated with the greatest delicacy. A gossamer piano cadenza muses on previous material, before the orchestra gradually increases the tempo and takes us to a closing headlong Presto—becoming Prestissimo—and the grand final statement of the theme, with piano chords sailing commandingly above. The final dash to the end contains brilliant passagework which goes on and on as if neither side is willing to give up.

from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2011

Track-specific metadata
Details for CDA67837 track 1
Recording date
14 January 2010
Recording venue
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
John H West
Recording engineer
David Hinitt
Hyperion usage
  1. Somervell & Cowen: Piano Concertos (CDA67837)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: September 2011
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