ROMANTIC PIANO CONCERTOS
Brilliant Classics 95300 (40 CDs) / ****
Long before Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concertos Series, there existed a run of LP releases in the 1960s and 70s by the budget American label Vox, mostly featuring the underrated American pianist Michael Ponti in virtuosic Romantic-era piano concertos most people have never heard of.
These and their like have now been reissued by the super-budget Dutch label Brilliant Classics in this 40-disc box-set. Presenting 108 concertante works for piano and orchestra by 73 composers in the most haphazard manner possible, listening to these in a chronological sequence is however next to impossible.
The composers range from Giovanni Platti (1692-1763) to Samuel Barber (1910-1981), whose works were united by a Romantic sensibility even if they did not live within the era occupied by most Romantic composers. There are none of the popular warhorse concertos by Chopin, Liszt, Brahms or Rachmaninov, but highlighted are “unknowns” like Czerny, Ries, Kalkbrenner, Thalberg, Litolff, D'Albert, Stavenhagen, Bronsart, Rheinberger, Raff, Reinecke, Reger and others.
Most of the performances were the only ones available at the time of release, being more than serviceable. Ponti and pianists like Gabriel Tacchino (in Saint-Saëns), Peter Frankl (Schumann's Introduction & Allegro), Rudolf Firkusny (Dvorak), Roland Keller (Weber) and Abbey Simon (Chopin's shorter works) however remain excellent in their given repertoire.
Although providing many hours of enjoyable listening, this selection is best sampled as a parlour game “Guess the Composer” played by music-loving friends on a lazy holiday weekend.