Howard Shelley / Ulster Orchestra

The Classical Piano Concerto Vol. 1: Dussek

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Having found unexpected success with its series of unknown Romantic piano concertos, Hyperion launched a similar series focusing on the Classical period with this release in 2014. It's a very auspicious start. Unlike many of the figures in the Romantic series, Czech composer Jan Ladislav Dussek was ahead of his time, not behind it. He was one of the few contemporaries whom the notoriously cantankerous Beethoven seems to have admired, and the piano concerto was arguably his strongest genre (he demanded from English piano maker John Broadwood several of the innovations Beethoven later exploited). This release from prolific pianist Howard Shelley (also featured in the Romantic series) offers a wide chronological spread in its selection of three of Dussek's 18 piano concertos. The Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 29, of 1795, is right in line with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in the same key that came along shortly aftterward, but most striking is the Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op. 70, of 1810, which looks forward past Beethoven to Schubert and even the later Romantics with its third relationships and ornate, spontaneous slow movement. Is there anything like Beethoven's compression demonstrated here? Assuredly not, but the concertos crackle with originality, and it's easy to imagine them all, even the early Piano Concerto in G major, Op. 1/3, as part of the musical world Beethoven inhabited. Shelley plays and conducts the Ulster Orchestra, and he gives the music the weight and scope it deserves. Recommended to all, not just collectors specializing in the Classical period.

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