Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International
July 2019

There is still considerable interest in this series, one that has now reached volume 22. Like its sibling of Romantic Piano Concertos, the pursuit of the little-known and seldom, if ever recorded is the aim and as a direct consequence concertos such as those by Eduard Lassen and Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka should come to be better known. Their concertos were written within six years of each other.

Lassen, Copenhagen-born, shone first as a pianist and then conductor, premiering Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila but compositionally he is best remembered for his songs. The Violin Concerto was composed in 1888 and is an engagingly fresh and easy-going affair, doubtless influenced by Goldmark (his concerto had been written in 1877) and by Dvořák’s 1879 Concerto. Passagework is neatly deployed, albeit some of it sounds more dutiful than inspired—a besetting sin in this kind of work—and though the raffiné style meanders somewhat, Linus Roth proves a thoughtful soloist. His sweet tone and artful feel for the work’s phrasal uplift is best encountered in the slow movement, the whole cantilena of which sounds to me like a song arrangement, though the arabesques, with an underlying waltz rhythm, prove especially ear catching. Light and capricious, the finale hardly offers a solution to the concerto finale problem and is the weakest of the three movements but at least ensures that the spirit of the work is untroubled to the very end.

Scharwenka, older brother of the more famous piano virtuoso Xaver, was for much of his life based at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Academy in Berlin, where his students included Otto Klemperer and Oskar Fried. There’s a nice sense of anticipation and brio in the first movement of his 1894 Concerto though a stern critic would note a lack of truly memorable motifs as well. But the concerto comes into its own in the slow movement, where iridescent moments of Goldmarkian beauty fuse with quietly expressive ardour to form a genuinely noble sense of expression, to which orchestra and soloist respond with genuine refinement. The confident, at points even Sarasatean finale is generous and affirmative; there are no shadows here, no reminiscences of earlier themes - just good-natured ebullience.

The incongruous third concerto, something of a filler in the circumstances, is the much later concerto of Langgaard (composed 1943-44) which, at less than ten minutes, is only slightly more compact than Fartein Valen’s pocket concerto of 1940. The Langgaard has at least been recorded more than once since its 1968 première. Note the use of a limpid orchestral piano and the very romantic central panel for the soloist, beautifully played here, something that must align it to the ‘Romantic Concerto’ category.

The notes to this issue are by MWI contributor Philip Borg-Wheeler and very readable and informative they are too. The BBC Scottish Symphony under Antony Hermus, who has made something of a specialty of the romantic literature, plays with great sympathy and sense of colour. Hardly essential—but then few things are—this disc offers an out-of-the-way sidelight on the repertoire.