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Piano Concerto No 6 in B flat major 'Fantastique', Op 90
Piano Concerto No 6 (‘Fantastique’) in B flat major was published as Op 90 in 1834 with a dedication to Miss Barlow. It received its first performance earlier the same year at the Philharmonic Society in London, where it was rather coolly received, in contrast to the enormous enthusiasm when Moscheles played it in Leipzig in October the following year. Although the movements follow the usual established pattern, each is joined to the next to form a continuous whole, and the many thematic links give the work an overall structural unity highly original for its time. Schumann in his review of the concerto considered the dangers of such an ‘unstable form’ outweighed the benefits, but declared it nonetheless thoroughly well-written and effective.

The orchestra’s opening three-note rising motif, stated forcefully and then in a quieter legato version, pervades the entire movement in different transmutations. The soloist’s entry injects a new rhythmic and melodic energy, which leaves the orchestra temporarily nonplussed, but they soon join forces to weave the motif into a lyrical melody. This is developed more contrapuntally by the piano, until a triplet figure emerges to form the basis for the second main thematic section, and the music settles into D major. Off goes the soloist in virtuoso fashion, until the orchestra breaks in again with a striking continuous triplet passage in Beethovenian/Mendelssohnian style, modulating deep into the flat keys. It sounds as if we have reached a recapitulation in B flat minor; but the piano resumes with growing urgency (dolente, appassionato and con smania), moving into the dominant of G minor – and we find ourselves suddenly in the second movement, a gentle triple-time Andante in dotted rhythm. This develops in expressive power before melting into a more pastoral second half in G major, where a fluid decorative figure eventually leads seamlessly into what looks like a short vigorous C minor Scherzo in 12/8. But this is in fact a pianistic bridge between Andante and finale, constructed of motifs from the first movement. It slips into D minor, the triplets build in ferocity and the B flat finale bursts forth, a four-square but wild and impetuous gipsy-like romp marked strepitoso and peppered with sotto voce interruptions. It is in this movement that Moscheles’ native good humour is given freest rein. The syncopated and more straightforwardly rustic second theme later combines with a rising woodwind melody, again derived from the first movement. A side-slip into E major, some Beethovenian trills, and the soloist races energetically towards the finish, with a final sideways glance at the triplet motif of the first movement.

from notes by Henry Roche © 2003

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