Howard Shelley / Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 58: Pixis, Thalberg

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This entry in pianist Howard Shelley's survey of neglected Romantic-era piano literature offers music by composers who are almost completely unknown. The name of Sigismund Thalberg figures in biographies of Liszt; he was considered Liszt's equal as a pianist in the 1840s and once faced off against him in a musical battle (the results were inconclusive). His music is comparable to Liszt's in terms of virtuosity, although nowhere near as formally innovative. The youthful Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 5, heard here is not really representative of what he could do, although it's full of difficult passagework. Shelley, leading the little-heralded but clean and bright Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, tears through this work but can't seem to work up much enthusiasm for it. More interesting are the two works by the obscure Johann Peter Pixis, a composer-pianist born in Mannheim and active for much of his career in Paris, where he contributed a piece to Liszt's collaborative Hexaméron. The piano writing in his Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 100 (1829), is less spectacular than in the Thalberg concerto, but Pixis seems to have been aware of the emerging Field-Chopin musical strain and to have attempted to incorporate it into a loose post-Romantic concerto structure. After he's been going for awhile, he allows the piano to introduce totally new nocturne-like material. It doesn't exactly hang together, but it's novel, and the slow movement of the C major concerto would also have been quite fresh and lyrical in 1829. The earlier Concertino in E flat major, Op. 68, is more compact and quite charming, even if less original. The whole is circumspectly played, and it's not going to rewrite any history books, but those trying to imagine the Paris into which Liszt and Chopin plunged will find it useful.

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