Howard Shelley’s quest for undiscovered repertoire in the field of the 19th-century piano concerto has led him to unpublished pieces by the English composer Cipriani Potter (1792-1871, known as Chip to his friends). When he was in his mid-twenties Potter travelled to Vienna in the hope of taking lessons from Beethoven. The two men met a few times, and Beethoven appreciated Potter’s talent, but he didn’t have time to take on any new pupils. Potter was also a fine pianist, and he gave English premieres of a number of Mozart concertos, as well as the Third and Fourth Concertos of Beethoven.
Potter’s own concertos, composed in the 1830s, are conservative in style, but distinctively coloured through their prominent use of wind instruments, as well as occasional passages for solo violin and cello. Piano Concerto No 2 has distant memories of Mozart’s concerto in the same key of D minor; and No 4, in the unusual key of E major, juxtaposes military-style music and more Romantic, chromatically enhanced, ideas.
The warmth and fluency of Howard Shelley’s playing presents the music in the strongest possible light, even if it’s not exactly memorable. More distinctive than the concertos are the bravura variations on a theme of Rossini’s now obscure opera Mathilde di Shabran, which couples glittering virtuosity with wit and inventiveness.