Hyperion Records

Concerto symphonique No 4 in D minor, Op 102
This is perhaps Litolff’s finest piano concerto and the musical achievements in it are many. The first and last movements are based entirely on one idea, or theme, which Litolff handles in such a way that the aural illusion impressed upon the listener is that two or more themes are present. These movements are also thematic in that fragments of the theme appear in sections which are ordinarily not thematic (for example, transitional and modulatory passages). The co-operative interplay between the orchestral instruments and the piano is particularly developed. Litolff displays a complete command of the rhythmical architectonic structure and the fusion of a large orchestra and a single piano into one body of sound. At no time does the concerto seem to be a concerto: it is a symphony for two bodies of sound whose co-operative elements make it one whole.

The first movement, Allegro con fuoco, retains the double exposition structure seen in the second concerto. Each exposition adopts transformation and inversion and uses the thematic material sequentially. The Scherzo (Presto) is again the second movement, and its use of triangle and piccolo gives it a novel effect, helping to fulfil the generic meaning of the title ‘Concerto Symphonique’. Litolff’s manipulation of the orchestra and piano in question-and-answer type motifs produces one of his finest Scherzos.

The third movement (Adagio religioso) is linked to the second without pause and serves as the modulating force from D minor to F major. In three-part form, the third movement is improvisational in character. The final Allegro impetuoso has an introduction followed by a carefully worked-out sonata structure with some tempo changes within the movement. The virtuosic conclusion, with its flourishes and bravura character, underscores Litolff’s coloristic use of the piano and the orchestra.

The concerto is scored for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings.

from notes by Ted Blair © 1997

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