Herz composed his Piano Concerto No 8 in A flat major Op 218 in 1873, the year before he resigned from the Paris Conservatoire. Listening blind to this concerto, it is surprising to learn that it was written only a year before Tchaikovsky began work on his First Piano Concerto. The underpinning for the first movement (Allegro molto moderato) is found in the rhythmic figure of the first two bars. A succession of brief melodic motifs is presented in Herz’s idiomatic style but now, instead of treacherous runs in thirds and exposed octave leaps, there is, alongside some blistering con fuoco passages, an emphasis on dolente espressivo, con grazia, cantabile and delicato playing. The movement ends repeating the opening rhythmic figure, now in E major. The brief Andantino that follows commences with a theme that could have come from one of Herz’s opera fantasies. A second section (in 12/16) provides a contrast before the opening aria is heard decorated in the left hand and again, after an accompanied cadenza, in the right. The last movement is a high-spirited Polonaise with an unexpected (and heart-catching) digression from A flat to B major and back. Following this is the second subject marked ‘Hymne national’. It is unclear quite to which nation this hymn belongs. Only the Polish national anthem bears a resemblance, albeit a very slight one, to the tune. The orchestra announces it first, repeated by the soloist who links a return to the Polonaise with two pages of bravura leggieramente writing. The national hymn returns before the brilliant coda. Clearly, the aged M. Henri Herz had not lost the common touch.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2004