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Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor
1897; first performed by Clotilde Kleeberg at the Paris Opéra on 30 January 1898, Paul Taffanel conducting; published by Heugel

'Dubois: Piano Concertos' (CDA67931)
Dubois: Piano Concertos
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Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Adagio con sentimento profondissimo
Movement 3: Allegro vivo, scherzando
Movement 4: Con molta fantasia: Allegro con fuoco

Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor
Published by Heugel—a firm that remained faithful to Dubois throughout his career—the Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor was premiered at the Paris Opéra on 30 January 1898 by the pianist Clotilde Kleeberg (1866–1909), who had also given the first performance of Dubois’s set of solo piano pieces Poèmes sylvestres. The orchestra was conducted by Paul Taffanel. Le Ménestrel reviewed the event on 6 February in terms highly laudatory for both performer and work:

Mlle Clotilde Kleeberg then played the Second Piano Concerto in F minor of M. Théodore Dubois, which was receiving its first hearing. The work is interesting, very modern in style and happily proportioned; the solo instrument does not misuse its predominance and often assumes a concertante role, taking its place in the symphonic movement. Unfortunately, the auditorium of the Opéra is so resistant to music that the piano could barely be heard in the course of the first movement. The Adagio that follows is attractive in colour, and its conclusion, con sordini, produces a felicitous effect; Mademoiselle Kleeberg played it very nicely, as she did the Allegro scherzando, which is nimble, lively, and elegant in rhythm. Its only fault—a rare one—is that it is too brief. The obligatory cadenza, instead of coming at the end of a movement as is usual, here appears at the start of the finale, Allegro con fuoco, a fast and cheerful piece with an attractive fugal passage, which ends the work on a warm note that invites applause. It certainly received that on this occasion, as did its excellent interpreter, who, with her stylishness, her virtuosity, her grace, succeeded in bringing out all its qualities of charm and colour.

The first movement of the concerto is by far the most extended, notably because it is founded on a multitude of themes and motifs which ensure variety. The initial tutti, a worthy heir to the thunderous openings of the Grieg and Schumann concertos, is assigned to the orchestra. It is answered by a second theme in Franckist harmonies. A false entry from the piano, with a simple but effective octave scale, leads to a reprise of the tutti. The soloist then presents a new theme of his own—one of Dubois’s finest melodic inspirations in this concerto—which is at once taken up and varied. The second theme displays a similar caressing lyricism, recalling Chopin in its elegant decorations and its delicately swaying accompaniment. A refined development with skilful harmonic progressions reintroduces the initial themes and motifs in extremely rich orchestral textures. Virtuosity does not seem to be the principal preoccupation of the composer, who has clearly taken into account the modern phenomenon of the symphonic concerto, in which the discursive role of the orchestra is preponderant. The passagework that punctuated the Concerto-capriccioso is much rarer here and is almost always superimposed on elaborate thematic working.

The second movement—a traditional but concise ternary form—is again based on a theme of great sensuality, although Dubois asks for it to be played ‘with gravity’. A presentation of this theme in bare octaves on the piano recalls the austere recitatives of Liszt or Chopin, but here its purpose is to prepare the climax of this Adagio: a reprise on full strings of the principal theme, on which the soloist superimposes a demanding motif of swirling runs. Without overusing this formula, Dubois concludes the movement in an atmosphere of tranquillity with witty harmonic twists characteristic of his style, which is never as smoothly conventional as one imagines.

The brief scherzo, typically French, manages in its own way to combine the elegance of a motif that Saint-Saëns and Pierné would not have disowned with monumental tuttis enlivened by agitated solo passagework. Rarely enough for its period, this movement might almost be thought too short, for the enjoyment it gives is still far from palling when it comes to an end. The soloist launches the finale with a written-out cadenza that recapitulates all the themes heard earlier. After this, the last movement is free to deploy its shimmering virtuosity in the manner of Saint-Saëns, with a few skilful contrapuntal passages thrown in.

from notes by Alexandre Dratwicki © 2013
English: Charles Johnston

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Details for CDA67931 track 4
Allegro vivo, scherzando
Recording date
14 June 2012
Recording venue
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon & Dave Rowell
Hyperion usage
  1. Dubois: Piano Concertos (CDA67931)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: July 2013
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