Roberto Prosseda / Howard Shelley / Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana

The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 62: Gounod - The Complete Works for Pedal Piano & Orchestra

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The Hyperion label's massive series devoted to the Romantic piano concerto (this is volume 62 and counting) has had a few entries of dubious value. But the purpose of a comprehensive series is to uncover some lost gems by sheer force of numbers, and that's just what happens here. The pedal piano is an almost-forgotten relic of the 19th century, but it was fairly popular in its own time, and even as august a work as Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, may have been composed with one in mind. It's worth a revival, and Italian pianist Roberto Prosseda had to cobble one together here: no original instrument was readily at hand. As the name suggests, it is essentially a piano with an organ keyboard. Charles Gounod, who is a composer too much known for just a few big hits, wrote four works for the instrument, all in the late 1880s, and they're delightful. There are two four-movement concertos, one of them denoted a Suite concertante in A major. The Concerto for pedal piano in E flat major is a bit more idiomatic to the instrument, and its slow movement, with a nifty hunting motif in its second-movement scherzo is most enjoyable. The two concerto slow movements are fine examples of Gounod's melodic idiom. The two shorter works at the end of the program are less distinctive melodically, but they would have been showpieces for the instrumentalist for whom they were written, and at the very least they fill in a gap in our knowledge of French music. Prosseda gets able support from the series' instigator, Howard Shelley, here conducting the Orchestra della Svizzera Italia.

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