At the age of fourteen, Clara Josephine Wieck (1819-1896) composed a Konzertsatz and her father’s student Robert Schumann helped her with the orchestration. It became the Finale of her Piano Concerto, which she completed two years later and in 1835 gave the first performance with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Mendelssohn conducting. In 1841, having married Robert, she was the pianist in the premiere of her husband’s Fantasy, which became the first movement of his Piano Concerto (1845), the first-performance conducted by Ferdinand Hiller.
Clara’s opening Allegro maestoso commences with a challenging orchestral passage introducing a lengthy section which Howard Shelley treats in a suitably romantic manner before the orchestra again strikes a serious note. The flow into the ‘Romanze’ brings a peaceful episode with piano combining with cello (Sue-Ellen Paulsen) before the powerful Finale, which is the most substantial of the movements and makes a powerful impact. Howard Shelley’s bright-toned instrument is particularly well-suited to this vibrant music.
Shelley has a particular interest in Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1883) and has recorded his three Concertos. Despite its title the Konzertstück is really a Concerto – like Clara’s, in A-minor and having three linked movements. If Clara’s work is largely serious, Hiller’s is optimistic despite the minor key – the central Allegretto smiles thoughtfully as pianist and cellist combine to capture its lyrical nature and in the Mendelssohn-like Finale, subtitled ‘Saltarello’, Shelley stresses cheerfulness. Taking the fierce octave runs in his stride he sweeps excitingly into each of the rhythmic episodes.
Austrian-born Henri Herz (1803-1888) began his studies in Paris at the age of fifteen and remained there for most of his life, becoming a French citizen. He had a colourful career, travelled widely as a pianist and may or may not have eventually married the already-married Pauline Thérèse Lachmann – famous for her extravagant lifestyle. He composed extensively for the piano: there are eight Concertos (Shelley has recorded seven of them) but his compositions evoked mixed opinions: Robert Schumann thought them shallow whereas Clara found many praiseworthy qualities. Scored for piano and strings (without double basses) the Rondo de concert begins with a gracious Larghetto cantabile the theme of which returns during the faster Rondo. The simple melodies are elaborated in virtuosic style and all are presented with panache and entertains well.
Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785-1849) though from one generation earlier than the companion composers here is very much in the Romantic tradition. Le rêve comprises a series of showpiece episodes each headed with specific instructions; a four-bar Adagio leads to an Allegro di molto and succeeding themes have numerous labels. I’m not sure if Shelley follows these instructions in precise detail but it is clear that he makes the very best of the many tunes which are often very original and show-off the pianist’s virtuosic technique splendidly, recorded in focus, and in all this release represents a worthy tribute to an interesting group of neglected composers.