The Variations de concert, Op 11, on ‘Quand je quittai la Normandie’ from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable are dedicated to ‘Her Majesty L’Impératrice de toutes les Russies’. Henselt produced this diverting confection in 1840 after his move to Russia, simultaneously shifting the subject of his dedications from a Bavarian to a Russian monarch. He was not the first to use Meyerbeer’s popular success for the basis of variations: Chopin’s Grand Duo in E for cello and piano was written in 1832, a year after the opera’s Paris premiere; Liszt in his Reminiscences, and Sigismund Thalberg in his Fantasy, used themes from the opera too. Henselt’s are out of the school of Chopin’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’ variations of some thirteen years earlier. Though there is less evidence of his études than in the concerto, it’s a work which partly justifies Schumann’s assessment of Henselt as ‘the Northern Chopin’. That said, it could never have been written by Chopin (nor indeed Mendelssohn; quite apart from stylistic comparisons it falls some way below their inspirational best). Its brilliant and demanding writing are more Lisztian than anything. After an opening deluge of octaves, note-spinning and a Larghetto introduction, Meyerbeer’s perky theme is followed by seven variations (with a fearsome cadenza before the last), each linked by an orchestral breathing space.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 1994