Howard Shelley

The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 80: Dupont, Benoit

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Hyperion's series "The Romantic Piano Concerto" here reaches its 80th volume, with no apparent loss of either artistic or commercial energy: audiences, it seems, remain hungry for works beyond the standard repertory. Here, pianist and conductor Howard Shelley offers a pair of Belgian works that probably haven't been played -- even in Belgium -- for a century or more, and both are worth the rediscovery. They are quite different from each other, and both draw on German sonata forms rather than the French music one might expect. The Piano Concerto No. 3 in F minor, Op. 49, of Auguste Dupont, was composed in 1857 and was widely performed and admired by Berlioz, among others. It mixes a varied, rather fantastic atmosphere with fine pianistic craft. The Symphonic poem for piano and orchestra, Op. 43, of Peter Benoit, was first performed in Antwerp in 1866. It doesn't quite live up to its ambitious title, vacillating without apparent pattern between conventional concerto-like passages and seemingly programmatic material (a program was added to the work after its premiere) that uses the piano as an orchestral instrument, but it's certainly not dull, and not at all derivative. Shelley and the Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen approach the performance with gusto, and buyers will likely be happy to learn about these unusual works.

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