Colin Anderson
January 2021
Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto series reaches volume eighty-two, which showcases the first two (of three) Piano Concertos by Armenian composer, pianist and teacher Stéphan Elmas (1862-1937). Both three-movement works (in respectively G minor and D minor) follow a similar pattern: an expansive opener close on twenty minutes, the G minor initially dramatic and striding, the piano entering within a few seconds, then contrasted with a sweet lyricism that invites comparison with Chopin; whereas the slow movements abound with song-without-words charm; and the Finales are dance-like. Too similar, maybe, and in the first movements there is a tendency to note-spin, if not without pianistic fireworks and an engaging/outgoing emotional voltage. There is though no doubting the generosity of Elmas’s invention, or his sincerity: those slow movements have an expressive and heartfelt simplicity, romantic to the core, and the Finales convey a joyous lilt. Lovers of Chopin’s Piano Concertos needn’t hesitate—but shouldn’t expect the Pole’s genius—while no praise is too high for Howard Shelley’s virtuosity and sensitivity (backed to the hilt by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) nor his dedication in bringing to such vivid and persuasive life these two byways of the Piano Concerto repertoire.