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Piano Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 15
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The concerto, so the story goes, was composed in just two weeks. It was Joachim Raff who frightened MacDowell into writing it. Calling on his American pupil one day, he asked MacDowell what work he had in hand. Standing rather in awe of Raff at that time, MacDowell without thinking blurted out that he was working on a concerto (in fact, he had no thought of doing so). Raff asked him to bring the work to him the following Sunday by which time MacDowell had just managed to write the first movement. Evading Raff until the following Sunday—still not finished!—he put him off again until the Tuesday by which time he had completed the concerto. Raff was so delighted with the results that he advised his pupil to travel to Weimar and show the work to Liszt. This MacDowell did, playing the work to the great man with Eugen d’Albert, no less, playing the orchestral part at the second piano.

The Piano Concerto in A minor is not, let us be frank, a first-rate work, especially when set beside MacDowell’s later pieces (someone once said they would give all his sonatas and both concertos for the two pages of To a Wild Rose). But, though somewhat immature, it is of more than mere academic interest and one can sense the white-hot inspiration in which it was written. After the opening maestoso chords (embellished in the otherwise unchanged edition posthumously issued in 1910), the soloist leads off into the fiery ‘Allegro con fuoco’ first movement. The end of the ‘Andante tranquillo’ second movement offers glimpses of the simple lyricism that was to be a trademark of MacDowell’s future miniatures. The confident finale (‘Presto’) in ABACA form recalls material from the first movement. Though influenced by the last movement of Grieg’s Concerto, MacDowell’s A minor has more in common with Anton Rubinstein’s showpiece concertos and, if the themes lack individuality and their handling is frequently rhetorical, it remains an effective work—one requiring a brilliant technique to bring it off convincingly.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2001

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Details for CDA67165 track 1
Maestoso – Allegro con fuoco
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-01-16501
Duration
10'48
Recording date
17 December 2000
Recording venue
Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland
Recording producer
Recording engineer
Hyperion usage
  1. MacDowell: Piano Concertos (CDA67165)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: March 2001
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