Howard Shelley / London Mozart Players

The Classical Piano Concerto, Vol. 6: Johann Baptist Cramer - Piano Concerto No. 4 in C major, Op. 38; Piano Concerto No. 5 in C minor, Op. 48

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Johann Baptist Cramer, born in Mannheim but residing and working for much of his life in England, was Beethoven's rival on the pianistic scene in Vienna but also supported him as a publisher (and probably gave the familiar "Emperor" nickname to the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73). Pianist Howard Shelley championed Cramer even before the advent of the Hyperion label's "Classical Piano Concerto" series. Here he returns with the London Mozart Players in two concertos not previously heard: Piano Concerto No. 4 in C major, Op 38, and Piano Concerto No. 5 in C minor, Op. 48. These works were composed earlier than you would guess, in 1804 and 1807, respectively, and they are state-of-the-art works that suggest Cramer understood Beethoven better than most of his contemporaries. The C major concerto, more in the post-Classical mode of Hummel than Beethovenian, is an excellent example of that style, with a relaxed opening movement (sample Allegro con brio) in which new melodic material keep appearing unexpectedly and delightfully. The Piano Concerto No. 5 is more outwardly Beethovenian, with a big opening movement marked by lots of sforzandos and a folkish finale. Shelley's ability to grasp a wide variety of music and present coherent performances as pianist and conductor continues to impress, although Hyperion errs here with a chilly church acoustic.

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