Howard Shelley / Ulster Orchestra

The Classical Piano Concerto, Vol. 5: Dussek - Op. 3, Op. 14, Op .49

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It was the Bohemian composer Jan Ladislav Dussek, a few years younger than Mozart, who inaugurated the Hyperion label's series devoted to the Classical piano concerto, and with this, the fifth volume (unlike the Romantic series, the discs aren't numbered), pianist Howard Shelley and the Ulster Orchestra have already returned to him. It's no wonder: Dussek was one of the few composers Beethoven admired, and he was central to the development of the pianistic textures one thinks of as characteristically Beethovenian. As you may suspect, Shelley's work (he conducts the orchestra as well) is exemplary, leaving only the music to decide on. Dussek's works, as evidenced on the Hyperion albums, are a bit uneven. Even in the earliest work here, the Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op. 3, of 1785, you can sense the expansion of form that was to come, but there's hardly a theme that you can whistle back after hearing the whole concerto. The highlight here is the Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 49, composed in 1801. Its opening movement is intricately constructed and holds up under its nearly 16-minute length, with solo material that constantly departs from that of the tutti without breaking the continuity. Sample this generously, also noting the brilliant piano part. Recommended for anyone interested in Beethoven and his world, and the Op. 49 concerto is one that should be restored to concert programs.

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