The Romantic Piano Concerto – William Sterndale Bennett & Francis Edward Bache

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Sterndale Bennett
Piano Concerto No.4 in F minor, Op.19
Caprice in E, Op.22
Bache
Piano Concerto in E, Op.18

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Howard Shelley (piano)

Recorded 5-7 December 2006 in the City Hall, Glasgow


Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: HYPERION CDA67595
Duration: 65 minutes

 

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William Sterndale Bennett took his Fourth Concerto with him when he visited Leipzig in 1838. Dedicated to Moscheles, it was premiered in January 1839 at the Gewandhaus, with Mendelssohn conducting.

Howard Shelley’s recording of it is superb and in full and lustrous. Sterndale Bennett’s writing is sparkly and agile and Shelley is infinitely dextrous in response. It’s interesting that Mendelssohn conducted the work, for there is much that is Mendelssohnian in it. The virtuosity is of the fluent, sophisticated variety. Yet there is also, rather daringly, a single-line melody (most affecting, too) for piano, simply accompanied by pizzicato strings. The slow movement is a ‘Barcarole’ and has an easy-flow basic rhythm that enables the melodic lines to flourish. A more dramatic middle section finds Shelley impassioned in his delivery of it. This is not the original middle movement; Sterndale Bennett had written (as he called it) a “Stroll through the meadows”, but this had failed to gain any popularity. The fiery middle section gives the concerto some emotional depth. The by turns sturdy and capricious finale forms an apt conclusion.

To investigate more of Sterndale Bennett’s piano concertos, head to Lyrita. A bonus on the present disc is the Caprice in E (originally titled ‘L’hilarité’), which received its premiere in London in May 1838. It is a fluent, eminently approachable work of some 13 minutes duration. Again, Shelley’s fingerwork is beyond reproach, and the accompaniment is continually on the ball (one would never guess that this is a conductor-less account).

The short-lived Francis Edward Bache (1833-1858) studied with Sterndale Bennett in London in 1849 before becoming another visitor to the fertile musical centre of Leipzig (a four-year sojourn). The first movement (of marked martial gait) reveals close thematic parallels with the Sterndale Bennett (hence its inclusion on this disc, presumably). If the piano-writing is rather hackneyed, the blazing confidence of youth soon swipes away any doubts. The finale is a catalogue of delights.

I particularly like the way Bache swathes from idea to idea with great elan but sometimes little preparation. The slow movement – which includes some lovely solo contributions from the orchestra, most notably the clarinet – moves ever-so-smoothly into the finale. The piano joins in the orchestral build-up here before a carefree theme is despatched with appropriate insouciance by Shelley.

This is another valuable addition to Hyperion’s “The Romantic Piano Concerto” series (this is Volume 43).

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