The Classical Piano Concerto – Howard Shelley records Johann Baptist Cramer for Hyperion

Cramer Piano Concertos
5 of 5 stars

Piano Concertos:
No.1 in E-flat, Op.10
No.3 in D, Op.26
No.6 in E-flat, Op.51

London Mozart Players
Howard Shelley

Recorded 16 & 17 July 2018 and 5 & 6 September 2019 in St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London.

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: October 2020
Duration: 78 minutes


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This is a welcome continuation of Howard Shelley’s exploration of Cramer’s Piano Concertos. Shelley’s excellent recording of Nos.4 & 5 showed the composer at the height of his powers, Acclaimed also as a virtuoso pianist, Cramer’s reputation is said to have been as great as that of Beethoven.  Those two works were from 1804 and 1807; their scoring and construction was ‘of the period’ and reminiscent of late Mozart or early Beethoven.  The new release gives a different view; the score of No.1 from 1792 gives harpsichord as the alternative solo instrument.  No.3 from 1796 adds flute to the scoring and nominates piano for the solo part. So far, Cramer’s style had not yet reached that of nineteenth-century romanticism and Howard Shelley is clearly aware of the classical nature of these works. These are sparkling performances enhanced by excellent recorded balance.

The earlier two works open with extensive orchestral introductions which are symphonic in nature. Cramer was in his early 20s when composing them and the remarkable early maturity of Beethoven in composing his B-flat Piano Concerto at about the same time is brought to mind. Confidently strong forward motion is the admirable nature of Shelley’s approach with suitable weight being given to the substantial opening movements.  The cadenzas are brief and unfussy.  Shelley takes the gentle theme of No.3’s Pastoral e sostenuto: Larghetto and plays it expressively without moving into romanticism.  The Finale is very much a Cramer invention – folkish and jolly, a bright display of pianism.

Concerto No.6 from 1811 is a more mature work, opening with fanfare-like measures with further flourishes from horns; the piano enters after three minutes expounding the themes powerfully. Cramer’s approach to the cadenza is interesting: he does not prepare for them, the orchestra simply falls silent as the soloist embellishes the themes. The calm slow movement is delivered gracefully, then comes another Rondo of remarkable simplicity.  The ordinariness of the themes is leavened by the delicate running sequences and cleverly fashioned pianistic roulades, achieved here with immaculate precision.

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