The Romantic Piano Concerto – 77: Emmanuel Despax plays Bronsart von Schellendorf & Urspruch [BBC Scottish SO/Eugene Tzigane; Hyperion]

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4 of 5 stars

Bronsart von Schellendorf
Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor, Op.10
Piano Concerto in E-flat, Op.9

Emmanuel Despax (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Eugene Tzigane

Recorded 14 & 15 June 2017 at City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: October 2018
Duration: 75 minutes


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Romantic Piano Concerto 77 – both of these works fit Hyperion’s bill.

Berlin-born Hans August Alexander Bronsart von Schellendorf (1830-1913, from a Prussian military family, and “once a force to be reckoned with”) wrote his F-sharp minor Piano Concerto in 1873. The listener is plunged straight in, the orchestra stormily introducing the pianist’s soon-to-arrive heroic entrance. This is strong stuff, music of energy, power and sweeping passion, tenderness and lyricism too. All very engaging, and the orchestra is no bystander. There are some Lisztian aspects (the Hungarian greatly admired Bronsart as a fellow-virtuoso, and conducted him at Weimar), and Brahmsian ones to a certain degree, but the overall impression is that Bronsart was a composer with an eye for drama tempered by poeticism whose ink left his pen onto paper with active assurance, charismatically suggested by this lively, full-on and considered performance from Emmanuel Despax, attentively supported (Eugene Tzigane took Second in the 2008 Solti Competition). The slow movement is rather lovely, a duskily coloured moonlit nocturne, and the Finale is fiery and devilish … until a ceremonial fanfare interrupts … but the pianist is undeterred by that, lots of notes and speed are maintained, twinkle-in-the-eye galumphing emerging. If the Adagio contains eddies of Elgar, then the tarantella last movement anticipates Wolf-Ferrari.

That’s thirty minutes of the disc accounted for. The remaining forty-five belong to Anton Urspruch (1850-1907, from Frankfurt), who also knew Liszt. His Piano Concerto (1882) is an ambitious affair, the outer movements respectively twenty-four and thirteen minutes, the first mixing languor with quicksilver nimbleness – Despax as dexterous as required – in what might be described as a pastoral fantasy, it’s certainly tuneful, and the trill-laden cadenza is inventive. The relatively brief slow movement is dark and intimate, quite sad (one of the markings is mesto), whereas the Finale is dance-like, but if a composer is in doubt as to what to do next, the answer is write a fugue: five minutes in that’s just what Urspruch does. The animated closing bars are worth waiting for though.

As a curiosity, Urspruch’s effort is certainly worth a listen, Bronsart’s rather more so – and there are no complaints regarding performances, production and annotation.

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