Both these works are recorded for the first time and very well too, both in terms of accomplishment and regarding the sound quality. As an entrée Adolf Schulz-Evler’s Russian Rhapsody makes a tasty morsel. Polish-born Schulz-Evler (1852-1905) was no slouch himself as a performing pianist – witness the transcendental technique needed to play his Arabesques on Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube and other finger-breakers. He spent time in Moscow and St Petersburg and Russian Rhapsody is a nicely varied and engaging bonbon, which embraces soulful and chirpy ditties – some very good tunes – very enjoyably until the martial and rousing coda, written with one eye on an ovation. Ludmil Angelov deserves one for his sensitive and thrilling playing.
As he does for excelling in the four-movement, here 54-minute B-minor Piano Concerto by Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925). There is a later Piano Concerto by this Polish composer, and his Opus 3, known about if assumed lost until the manuscript was discovered in Paris in 2008, is an ambitious piece that is oddly designed, the longest movement being the 20-minute Finale.
The opening, quite short, Allegro abounds in atmosphere and drama – the orchestral introduction could be the prelude to an opera. It takes a few minutes for the pianist to enter. When that happens the writing is rather Chopinesque, with roulades of notes, and very attractive, although the closing fade is inconclusive. The rather (too) long slow movement – somewhat doleful – doesn’t quite hold the attention for all that Angelov is very persuasive, and from there straight into a witty Scherzo, which is introduced by pizzicatos. It’s a merry dance decorously orchestrated, the pianist light of touch and nimble, and the Trio is bathed in charming lyricism.
As for the expansive Finale, it begins in funereal terms, but a minute in there is speed and scintillation, a determined course is ploughed and halfway through the Concerto seems to arrived at its finish but instead carries on, although the use of a piccolo perks things up at this point. These energised musicians (orchestra and conductor unswerving) certainly have command of the con spirito marking. There is now a cadenza, a majestic affair, which may be heard to cue a rhapsodic section, the orchestra returned, before a grand apotheosis wraps things up. The resounding closing chord is total Tchaikovsky.
With what heroics this music is given, worth a punt especially if the genre appeals, and Hyperion’s long-running series is testament to the interest we have in the Romantic Piano Concerto; a friend of mine, recently deceased, would have loved this release. In terms of performance, production and presentation, RPC68 is first-class.