Carlo Grante / Fabio Luisi

Franz Schmidt: Concertante Variationen; Konzert Es-Dur

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The admirable Italian conductor Fabio Luisi, who has already recorded a superlative cycle of the four symphonies by Austrian master Franz Schmidt, returns here with pianist Carlo Grante in a superb coupling of the same composer's Concertante Variationen über ein Thema von Beethoven für Klavier (linke Hand) und Orchester and Konzert Es-dür für Klavier (linke Hand) und Orchester. They key phrase in the titles is, of course, linke Hand -- left hand. Like Prokofiev's Fourth Piano Concerto and Ravel's Concerto pour piano (main gauche), both these works were commissioned by pianist Paul Wittgenstein, the philosopher's brother, who had lost his right arm in the Great War. As with all Schmidt's music, both these works are massively scored, enormously emotional, and harmonically conservative. Schmidt skillfully writes for the unusual combination, balancing and blending the soloist and the orchestra without slighting one or the other. Although it may seem reactionary to fans of his contemporaries Schoenberg and Stravinsky, the earnest sincerity and absolute integrity of Schmidt's music is its own best advocate -- although dedicated interpreters like Luisi and Grante come a very close second. Grante, a two-handed pianist best known for his recordings of Liszt and Busoni, shows himself as a heroic single-handed virtuoso here, and Luisi elicits firm and forceful playing from the MDR Symphony Orchestra, the former Leipzig Symphony Orchestra. Anyone who enjoyed Luisi's recordings of Schmidt's symphonies need not hesitate. MDR's digital recording is a bit close, perhaps, but quite colorful and very present.

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