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Early Romantic Piano Concerti

Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Ferdinand RIES
: Concerto in C Major (1796)
Field: Concerto No.2 in A-flat Major, H31 (c. 1807)
Hummel: Concertino in G Major, Op. 73 (c. 1815)
: Piano Concerto No.5, Op. 48
Czerny: Divertissement de Concert, Op. 204
Ries: Concerto in C-sharp Minor, Op. 55 (c. 1824)

Felicja Blumental, Rena Kyriakou, Martin Galling, Akiko Sagara, Michael Ponti, Maria Littauer (piano); Prague New Chamber Orchestra/Zedda, Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Bünte, Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg/Cao, Southwest German Chamber Orchestra/Angerer, Hamburg Symphony/Springer
Rec. 1968/78
VOXBOX CDX5111 [CD1 70.32; CD2 75.14]
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This is an additional volume to complement the VoxBox series on Piano Concertos of some the performing virtuoso-playing composers of the Romantic tradition.

Many of the VoxBox series are the only versions of these recorded works.


To many, Clementi is remembered for the 'Clementi' piano, and his easy-piece Italian Sonatinas which pupils of the piano have often come across. This fact, and the amazing speed with which he churned out new pieces, caused his skills as a composer to be somewhat overlooked and much of his skilfully composed music is today largely forgotten.

One of these works is his Concerto in C Major, a concerto structurally similar to late Mozart concertos. This is a lovely piece with bustling 1st and 3rd movements (Allegro con spirito & Presto) which encompass an elegant middle lyrical movement (Adagio e cantabile), which is worthy of serious study by students of piano music. The music was lost, then rediscovered in Vienna in the 1960s.

Although Field came from a musical family in Dublin, he ended up living in Russia. Following a London concert début when twelve he became apprenticed to Clementi who used his talents to demonstrate pianos at his London showroom. Field received free lessons (to make up for a small wage) from this virtuoso businessman; then learnt composition and was later able to develop his writing skills. Clementi took him on a continental tour, which ended up in St Petersburg. He composed his Concerto No.2 in A-flat Major in time for a concert he gave there in 1808. The piece displays an impressive knowledge of music, surprisingly far greater than his tutor Clementi; he anticipates the style of Chopin, which was yet to come. The movements, a truly romantic Allegro moderato, supported by a strong flowing Haydnesque theme; a dreamy Poco adagio; and a cheery Mozartian Allegro moderato innocente provides a work of inspired brilliance and charm. Why was this piece ever lost, one wonders? Pianist, Kyriakou fully captures the engaging spirit of the work

It is not surprising that Hummel's compositions sound familiarly like Mozart, for he was taught by the master. At the age of seven Mozart witnessed the boy's ability at the piano and offered free lessons. When nine Hummel gave his first concert. During his day he was the most formidable virtuoso of Europe, rivalling even Beethoven, Clementi and Field.

The Concertino in G Major (written around 1815) is a bright work which, as might be expected, follows the classical models of Mozart and Beethoven. Yet his style is distinctly his. In the composition, Hummel has provided an elegant and fluent concerto conveying good orchestral colour. The movements - Allegro moderato, Andante grazioso and an energetic final Rondo, provide plenty opportunity for piano virtuosity to display a soloist's talent and Galling rises with confidence to the occasion.


Cramer is another forgotten composer and pianist, better known for the music-publishing house he started; still flourishing in London today. Beethoven had great regard for him as a virtuoso composer. His father and grandfather were both good orchestral violinists.

Having Clementi as his teacher was fortunate for he was touring the continent by the age of 17. His business interests started by the age of 30 and he published several Beethoven works in England after 1815. His output for the piano was high and to this he added chamber music and seven concertos. The present recording of his No. 5 is probably the first recording of any of his major works. The title page carries a note stating that the concerto was written for the "PianoForte as Newly Constructed by Clementi & Co. with Additional Keys up to F". The characteristics of the piano heard on this recording suggest that a Clementi piano was not used: the background booklet make no reference to this.

The style of his Piano Concerto No. 5 is generally light, with an opening Allegro maestoso starting with a long orchestral introduction to set the mood of the movement before the piano joins in. (It is dramatic and not dissimilar from some of the C Minor concertos of Mozart and Beethoven.) This is followed by a pastoral and songlike Largetto using flutes and horns effectively in a charming nocturne. A Rondo a l'hongroise, more like a scherzo, brightens the piece considerably. The interpretation by Cao seems to lack a certain vitality however, and more colour might have been provided by use of stronger dynamics.

Like Clementi, Czerny is remembered for his pupil exercises and little else. He was an excellent composer, however, who did not start composing until 27. Though much of his work was hardly inspired, his output was vast with opus numbers nearing one thousand. Amongst the mass of ordinary material were gems and this Divertissement is one of them. He was a pupil of Beethoven and teacher of Liszt, incidentally.

The title, Divertissement de Concert, gives away its French connection. Indeed, the work could have been written by Chopin for a French ballet. This virtuoso piece has an orchestral introduction to a piano theme, which is then followed by seven variations. The variations are quite beautiful and as the notes say " the right hand flows over the notes like quicksilver". The recording is sparkling, and soloist Ponti superb.

Ries, born in Bonn, was surrounded by music at home and learnt the piano, cello and violin. He travelled and later was taken under the wing of Beethoven whilst in Vienna. As a benefactor, Beethoven took him for lessons, arranged for him to study composition and even introduced him to nobility. An unfortunate quarrel with Beethoven over a misunderstanding eventually brought him to England in 1813. Here he married, rose to prosperity composed fluently and became a famous performer.

Ries's Concerto in C-sharp Minor (his third) was dedicated to Clementi. Its style reveals the emotions of a man who 'thinks through his fingers'. The first movement, (Allegro maestoso) echoes Beethoven in the contrast shown by a strong militancy of the first subject and flowing tranquillity of the second. The second movement, (Largetto) opens with passages of languid introspectiveness, which strengthens to passages of purposeful assertiveness. The final rondo (Allegretto), launched by a sort of motto figure of pulsing horns is full of sprightly ripples, bouncy rhythm and fun.

The venue of this recording suits the soloist, but not the orchestra where forte passages of the strings are thin. The acoustics are unusually dry and boxy for 1972 when the piece was recorded.

All soloists play with skill and dexterity and the five orchestras play competently under caring conductors.

This VoxBox set contains great rarities. The compilation has been cleverly formulated to provide continuity to the listener in giving an opportunity to study changing styles between teacher and taught. It makes a valuable contribution to mapping the story of the development of music in the early 19th Century. The notes tell a clear story and give useful historical information.

Raymond Walker




The links below are to where the 2CD sets retail at around $10

Some reviews may be found here


Henselt: Concerto in F Minor, Op. 16; Hiller: Konzertstück, Op. 113; Chopin: Allegro de concert in A Major, Op. 46; Kalkbrenner: Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 61; Hummel: Piano Concerto, Op. 110 "Les Adieux"
Michael Ponti, Jerome Rose, Hans Kann, pianists
Philharmonia Hungarica, Othmar Maga; Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg, Pierre Cao; Berlin Symphony, Volker Schmidt-Gertenbach; Hamburg Symphony, Heribert Beissel
CDX 5064 -Vox Box

: Concerto in G Minor, Op. 58; Hiller: Concerto in F-sharp Minor, Op. 69; Litolff: Concerto Sinfonique in E-flat Major, Op. 45; Reinecke: Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 72; Mendelssohn: Capriccio brilliant for Piano & Orchestra, Op. 22; Rheinberger: Piano Concerto, Op. 94
Michael Ponti, Piano
Philharmonia Hungarica, Othmar Maga; Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg, Louis de Froment & Pierre Cao; Berlin Symphony, Volker Schmidt-Gertenbach.
CDX 5065 -Vox Box

: Concerto in E Major, Op. 59; Scharwenka: Concerto in C Minor, Op. 56; Rubinstein: Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 70; Thalberg: Concerto in F Minor, Op. 5
Michael Ponti, Piano
Philharmonia Hungarica, Hans Richard Stracke & Othmar Maga; Hamburg Symphony, Richard Kapp; Westphalian Symphony Orchestra, Richard Kapp
CDX 5066 -Vox Box

: Concerto in C, Op. 185; Mosonyi: Piano Concerto; Stavenhagen: Concerto, Op. 4; Liszt: Malediction; D'Albert: Concerto No. 2 in E, Op. 12: Bronsart: Concerto in F-sharp, Op. 10
Michael Ponti, Jerome Rose & Roland Keller, pianists
Hamburg Symphony; Richard Kapp, conductor; Southwest German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim; Paul Angerer, conductor; Westphalian Symphony Orchestra; Richard Kapp, conductor
CDX 5067 -Vox Box

: Concerto No. 3, Op. 60; Balakirev: Concerto in E-flat; Liapunov: Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, Op. 28; Sinding: Concerto in D-flat; Goetz: Concerto in B-flat, Op. 18
Michael Ponti & Roland Keller, pianists
Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg; Pierre Cao, conductor; Westphalian Symphony Orchestra; Siegfried Landau, conductor; Berlin Symphony Orchestra; Jörg Faerber, conductor
CDX 5068 -Vox Box

: Concerto No. 2 in D, Op. 23; Beach: Concerto, Op. 45; Gershwin: Concerto in F; Barber: Concerto Op. 38
Eugene List, Mary-Louise Boehm & Abbott Ruskin, pianists
Westphalian Symphony Orchestra; Siegfried Landau, conductor; Berlin Symphony Orchestra; Samuel Adler, conductor; M.I.T. Symphony Orchestra; David Epstein, conductor
CDX 5069 -Vox Box

: Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11; Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 32; Konzertstück, Op. 42; Volkmann: Konzertstück, Op. 42; Berwald: Concerto No. 1 in D Major; Alkan: Concerto da camera No. 2 in C-sharp Minor; Schumann: Introduction and Allegro appassionata in G Major, Op. 92; Raff: "Ode to Spring," Op. 76; Liszt: Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra
Michael Ponti, Roland Keller & Jerome Rose, pianists
Berlin Symphony Orchestra; Siegfried Köhler & Volker Schmidt-Gertenbach, conductors; Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg; Pierre Cao & Louis de Froment, conductors; Southwest German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim; Paul Angerer, conductor; Hamburg Symphony; Richard Kapp, conductor
CDX 5098 -Vox Box

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