Wednesday 2 August 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, August 2017)

Piano Concertos
BBC Scottish Symphony / Rebecca Miller
Hyperion 68130 / *****

It has taken 70 volumes of Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concertos series to arrive at the first piano concertos composed by women. Surprisingly too, that these are neither by Clara Schumann nor Fanny Mendelssohn. 

Very rarely heard but perhaps the best-known is American Amy Beach's Piano Concerto in C sharp minor (1899), a sprawling 35-minute canvas in four movements. It combines the bravura of Liszt, mellifluousness of Grieg, dramatics and sentimentality that would later define Hollywood film music to stunning effect.

French pianist-composer Cecile Chaminade’s salon pieces are occasionally heard but the Concertstuck (Concert Piece) in C sharp minor (1888) is very different, with a striking opening strongly reminiscent of Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture

The most obscure work is the Piano Concerto in D minor (1923) by the Brit Dorothy Howell, who premiered it at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. It is more a single-movement tone poem with piano obbligato which does not outlast its welcome.

It was unfortunate that Hyperion did not engage a woman pianist for these three sizzlers, but young English pianist Danny Driver is superb, while brilliantly partnered by Californian Rebecca Miller at the helm. Anyone who thinks that women composers are any less than their male counterparts will be in for a rude shock or pleasant surprise, most likely both.

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