Johann Baptist Cramer tends to be remembered today as the composer of a book of piano exercises gathering dust at the back of a cupboard, but most people don't think of him at all. Yet in his day—born in 1771, died in 1858—he was one of the most celebrated pianists alive. He was born in Mannheim but his father took him to live in London when he was three, and it was there that he studied, fledged, and blossomed as England's most remarkable pianist.
And, also, most loved: 'Glorious John' was the nickname London audiences pinned on him. He was at the centre of London's musical life, co-founding the Philharmonic Society, and sitting on the board of the Royal Academy of Music from its inception. He championed the music of his friend Haydn and introduced Beethoven’s piano sonatas to English audiences. He worshipped JS Bach.
For me, the two concertos on this disc represent a real discovery, and a welcome alternative to the endlessly recycled Mozart and Beethoven canons. There are times when you'd say that the first of these works—composed in 1804—was by Mozart, so perfectly does it reflect the Vienna-school soundworld, and there are Beethovenian echoes in the second, which was composed in 1807. But there are other moments when you realise that Cramer inhabited his own soundworld, and that he had his own particular brand of fanciful elegance. Both concertos have irresistibly charming Romance-style slow movements, while the outer movements are flawlessly constructed.
Howard Shelley plays and conducts with such serene control that piano and orchestra seem to become one single instrument.