The Romantic Piano Concerto No.82 – Howard Shelley records Stéphan Elmas [Hyperion]

Elmas - Piano Concertos - The Romantic Piano Concerto Vol 82 [Howard Shelley Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra] [Hyperion Records - CDA68319]
4 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in G-minor
Piano Concerto No.2 in D-minor

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Howard Shelley (piano)

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: February 2021
Duration: 74 Minutes



Howard Shelley’s attention to neglected nineteenth-century Piano Concertos continues with this fine recording of the first two by Stéphan Elmas (1862-1937).  Composed in 1882 and 1887 respectively they are very much in the style of the ‘Romantic’ period.  Elmas was not an innovative composer and the structure is very similar to that of Chopin’s Concertos of over half a century earlier with first movements as long as the remaining two combined.  Another similarity is the stretching of the conventional classical sonata form to allow further lyrical themes to be included but perhaps the same could also be said of Rachmaninov – a mere decade younger than Elmas.

Shelley has a positive approach to romanticism, interpreting the music in an unaffected manner – the dreamy melodies which Elmas sometimes incorporates are played in such a way that they become a natural part of the fabric.  The opening of No.1 indicates that the orchestration is to be warm and full-bodied but it is always at the service of the piano which appears early in every movement of both works.  Subtle harmonies support the piano throughout – solo moments are relatively few and there are no long cadenzas.  The strength of both Concertos lies in their slow movements, that of No.1 begins peacefully and the orchestra infiltrates gently before taking up a rich theme – perhaps listeners would be prepared to let the music wash over them but this would mean missing the subtlety of the alternation between orchestra and piano.  The dancing Finale progresses with charm; the minor-key prevents it from being too light-hearted.

Although Concerto No.2 was written only five years later it does seem to have advanced a little in style; the first movement has more of a dramatic element and despite its length there are fewer discursive moments.  In the Andante, the gentle statement of a calm opening theme seems to hark back to an earlier time – Mozart did the same sort of thing but when Elmas adds a richly romantic episode towards the end, his music is clearly a hundred years later in style.  I don’t wish to imply that Elmas is derivative but, in the Finale, the pianistic replies to the stormier orchestral melodies are reminiscent of Schumann. The rediscovery of Elmas does not shake musical history but it indicates that some excellent music is being neglected. These are extremely sympathetic performances, well recorded with admirable balance between soloist and orchestra. Because of his dual role Shelley ensures that the orchestral phrasing closely matches the way in which he expresses the music on the piano.

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