Artur Pizarro / Martyn Brabbins / BBC National Orchestra of Wales

The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 64: Oswald, Napoleão

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More than five dozen strong and counting, Hyperion's series devoted to the Romantic piano concerto continues to recover absolutely unknown music. Here are a pair of pianist-composers, both successful performers in their own time; Henrique Oswald was born in Brazil, while Alfredo Napoleão was a Portuguese who spent considerable time there, and they would likely have known each other's music. At least outside of Brazil, the country's concert music of the late 19th century is represented mostly by Ernesto Nazareth, whose dance pieces occupied a position in musical life somewhat similar to that of Scott Joplin in the U.S. Most concert music at the time would have followed European models, with no national Brazilian influence. So it is here: much of Oswald's music apparently follows French influences, but the ambitious opening movement of the Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 10, is in the Tchaikovsky mold, with sweeping melodies that seem to burst the bounds of the piano-orchestra interaction. The highlight of the whole album is that concerto's slow movement, which uses the piano in a unique way to chromatically embroider a big, sentimental melody. The tarantella finale is not on the same level. Napoleão's concerto is even more grandiose, with a nearly 20-minute opening slow movement that holds up structurally, and a fast scherzo and finale. Either one of these pieces could be added to a symphonic piano concerto program with profitable results, and Portuguese American pianist Artur Pizarro brings the desired virtuoso flair, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Martyn Brabbins staying out of his way as needed. Recommended for anyone interested in Brazilian music.

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