The Romantic Piano Concerto – 76: Simon Callaghan plays Rheinberger & Scholz [BBC Scottish SO/Ben Gernon; Hyperion]

4 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto in A-flat, Op.94
Piano Concerto in B, Op.57
Capriccio, Op.35

Simon Callaghan (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Ben Gernon

Recorded 25 & 26 May 2017 at City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: August 2018
Duration: 71 minutes



I suppose there will come a time when Hyperion runs out of candidates for its Romantic Piano Concerto project, although it’s a series that with a few more boundaries might well reach a century and then retire to the pavilion undefeated as well as being a shelf-length; volume seventy-seven (Concertos by Bronsart and Urspruch, with Emmanuel Despax) is announced for release on September 28.

Changing now to football parlance, volume seventy-six is of two distinct halves. Vaduz-born Joseph (sic, Josef, more usually) Rheinberger (1839-1901, he died in Munich) – organist, conductor and teacher (pupils included Richard Strauss and Furtwängler) – composed twenty Sonatas (he was aiming for twenty-four, for key reasons) and two Concertos for his own instrument, and his varied catalogue reaches at least Opus 167.

His sole Piano Concerto opens arrestingly, the pianist entering within seconds, heroically, Simon Callaghan on his mettle – he plays with consummate ease all that is required – but the music isn’t that distinguished overall, tending towards gesture and earnestness and not living up to any initial promise, although there is no doubting Rheinberger’s proficiency, Chopin meets Mendelssohn if lacking their individual genius; however, the Finale has a certain amiability and sparkle, with the caveat that Saint-Saëns did such things even better.

On the other hand (Callaghan continuing to use both of his, with enjoyment), there is Bernhard Scholz (1835-1916, he too died in Munich). Scholz hailed from Mainz, destined to succeed his father running the family lithography business, until music got the better of him, to be channelled through conducting and teaching.

Scholz’s two works here are first recordings; amazing really for they are so attractive. Like Rheinberger, Scholz wrote the one Piano Concerto, which included Clara Schumann among its champions, and it’s a delight – tuneful, insouciant, expressive. Pro-Brahms Scholz may have been, but these pieces betray a lightness of touch that is beguiling and carried off with a craftsmanship (and a few dreamy surprises in the Concerto’s first movement) that suggests Scholz as unfairly neglected. If there is a reference composer to cite, the opening movement anyway, then it’s Weber. Following a lovely, intimate, heart-touching slow movement (Bruch-like) and exuberant, rather Hungarian, Finale, the earlier-composed Capriccio is another charmer, by design an introduction and allegro, Scholz inveigling the willing listener to share in his good-natured fantasy.

Throughout, Ben Gernon and the BBC Scottish offer lively and considered support to the excellent Callaghan, and the recording is a model of good balance, clarity and presence.

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