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Piano Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 31

'Godard: Piano Concertos' (CDA68043)
Godard: Piano Concertos
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Movement 1: Andante – Allegro vivace
Movement 2: Scherzo: Allegretto non troppo
Movement 3: Andante quasi adagio
Movement 4: Allegro ma non troppo (Vivace)

Piano Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 31
The Piano Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 31 (1875), begins with a sepulchral thirteen bars containing the motif that will act as a springboard for the first movement. A vigorous opening tutti and energetic salvo from the soloist leave us in no doubt as to the nature of the work and, while there could hardly be a greater contrast between this and the graceful lyrical second subject marked con fantasia (in E major), it is the dynamic energy of the writing that dominates the sonata-form movement.

A Scherzo comes next—this is a scherzo in the true meaning of the term (a ‘jest’ or ‘joke’), for Godard’s light-hearted, quick-fire interplay between soloist and orchestra cannot fail to bring a smile to the face. The colourful orchestration should not be overlooked, with some merry passages for both the bassoons and flutes. It’s a movement that might well have become a hit in the manner of Litolff’s Scherzo, from the Concerto symphonique No 4, had it been championed in the days of 78-rpm discs.

The third movement, Andante quasi adagio, is among the most affecting slow movements in the Romantic concerto repertoire. It begins as a funeral march (in B minor), then becomes an elegy (in B major) rising to an impassioned outburst of grief before subsiding to an almost quasi niente ending.

If the concluding Allegro ma non troppo (Vivace) does not quite equal the original and distinctive character of the three preceding movements it is not for want of ideas. The second subject, over a long pedal F (first heard after the forceful initial octave theme), is reminiscent of a folk song; when it is decorated (and repeated again over a pedal A), it sounds like a prescient passage from Vincent d’Indy’s 1886 Symphonie cévenole. Godard’s effervescent writing keeps the soloist on the qui vive throughout, with a brief coda (Allegro non troppo) bringing the work to a triumphant conclusion in A major.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2014

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