We tend to have set notions of the personalities that shaped the music of most historical periods. While the names of those who dominate obscure the lesser, we sometimes find, in the shadows, new material that helps us understand an age in a richer way. And so it is with the music of Daniel Steibelt and a new recording by Howard Shelley that presents three of his piano concertos in Steibelt.
Born to German/French parents, Steibelt was a contemporary of Mozart and Beethoven. He built his career as a pianist and composer in France and England at the turn of the 19th century. He is reported to have famously challenged Beethoven to a piano duel and forever lived with the humiliation of that ill-conceived contest. Steibelt’s music shows his remarkable keyboard facility with extended runs and complex ornamentation. Although his work shows him to have been a fine tunesmith, he is judged to have been much less competent at thematic development.
Pianist and conductor Howard Shelley performs the Piano Concertos Nos 3, 5 and 7 with the Ulster Orchestra. Shelley’s playing is graceful and delivers the full value of Steibelt’s decorative tunes, many of them finely crafted and memorable, especially the Scottish folk melodies in the slow movements. The orchestra is superbly balanced with the piano, and while conducted from the keyboard, their performance is unerringly intimate with the soloist. The recording is a welcome document of a deserving, if lesser known, composer.