Howard Shelley / Opera North Orchestra

Schumann, Grieg, Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos

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In a world full of couplings of Schumann and Grieg's Piano Concertos in A minor, this disc offers three distinct advantages. First and most obviously, it offers an additional work, Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto in G minor, which brings the disc's total playing time up 78 minutes. Second, it offers up a soloist who's also the conductor, the multitalented Howard Shelley who directs England's Orchestra of Opera North from the keyboard. Finally and most importantly, it offers distinctly fresh views of all three works. Usually, both Schumann and Grieg's concertos are played to emphasize the works' abundant lyricism and abounding virtuosity. Shelley switches their emphasis a bit, keeping their lyricism intact and certainly not slighting their virtuosity, but bringing to the fore the work's forceful drama and evocative poetry. In Shelley's accounts, the opening movements' themes are much more heroic than usual, their developments much more powerful, and their cadenzas much more of a life and death struggle. By using tempo rubato at both a local and a larger level, Shelley imparts more excitement to the music and more cohesion to the performance because, needless to say, the soloist and the conductor are truly of one mind when it comes to interpretation. Shelley applies the same techniques to Saint-Saëns' concerto and the results are equally impressive. Though most listeners will probably already have favorite recordings of these concertos, any listener who admires them will want to hear what Shelley does with them. Chandos' digital sound is warm, deep, and colorful.

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