Johann (John) Baptist CRAMER (1771-1858) Piano Concerto No.4 in C, Op.38 (1804) [29:16]
Piano Concerto No.5 in c minor, Op.48 (1807) [31:36]
Howard Shelley (piano)
London Mozart Players
rec. 16-17 July 2018, St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, London. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from
With so much tempting new material being released every month, not least
from Hyperion, I had passed this by until I reviewed another Hyperion
recording on which Cramer’s music features: The Jupiter Project
brings chamber-scale reductions for piano, flute, violin and cello of
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21, Symphony No.41 (Jupiter) and the
overtures to Die Zauberflöte and Figaro (CDA68234). My review of the 24/96 download, pending as I write,
will probably have
appeared by the time that you read this.
That recording includes Cramer’s arrangement of Piano Concerto No.21 which
I enjoyed so much that, although I had reservations about the Jupiter Symphony in scaled-down garb, I thought the album worth
obtaining for the sake of the concerto. That comes in a recording by David
Owen Norris and his partners that I enjoyed as much as the recent Chandos
release of Nos. 20 and 21 from Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and the Manchester
Camerata (CHAN20083 –
There are, in fact, two arrangements by Cramer of the Mozart concerto, one
made in London in 1827, the other in Munich in 1836. Downloaders receive
both on a 108-minute album, while those who purchase the disc can download
the second recording free of charge.
Johann Baptist Cramer was brought to London as a child by his violinist
father who, like so many others, found fame and fortune in the burgeoning
capital. A pupil (briefly) of Clementi, a friend of Haydn and an
acquaintance of Beethoven, he lived most of his life in England, where he
usually chose to call himself John. The publishing house of Cramer, still
going strong, was founded by him and he was Master of the King’s Music for
eleven years until his death.
The two concertos on the new recording and the three others on Howard
Shelley’s earlier recording for Chandos – details below – present him as a
largely conservative composer, more akin to Haydn and Mozart than to the
Beethoven of 1804 and 1807, but his music is very well crafted and wholly
enjoyable. I don’t wish to give the impression that it’s staid, however,
just slightly less ground-breaking than that of several of his
The Jupiter Project was recorded using a Broadwood piano of 1826,
its rather drier sound capturing the music as it would have been heard in a
Georgian drawing room. Howard Shelley uses a modern Steinway instrument for the new
recording and, enjoyable as I found it overall, I believe that a fortepiano
or an early pianoforte would have increased my enjoyment. That must be
taken as a very minor consideration, however, especially as Shelley's touch
often sounds close to that of an early piano.
This is, in fact, the only recording of Concerto No.4 in the catalogue, but
I can’t imagine it being more effectively performed all round or better
recorded, especially in 24/96 format, or presented. Jeremy Dibble’s notes,
as is usually the case with Hyperion, are an important part of the deal.
Nor will even the 24-bit version break the bank, at £12. (16-bit and mp3
for £7.99. The CD retails for around £12.75, but with as much as £17.45
being asked by one dealer).
While there is another recording of No.5, it comes from an elderly Vox
recording, with a soloist and orchestra not in the top flight and no match
for Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players. We used to have to rely
on these Vox recordings for much of the out-of-the-way piano concerto
repertoire. The Cramer can be obtained on an inexpensive 2-CD Vox set
(CDX5111) or in a 40-CD Brilliant Classics set (95300). Stuart Sillitoe
enjoyed every minute of hearing the box –
– but it’s to the new Hyperion that you should now turn. It could be well
worth downloading and dipping into the Brilliant box, however:
are offering the 21 hours of music on it for just £9.75 in lossless sound
(even less in mp3).
Subscribers to the invaluable Naxos Music Library
will find it in various formats there, including the reissue of the Vox
Turnabout LP where it was coupled with music by Hummel. The chief gain
from hearing the Hyperion, aside from the superior pianism of Shelley, comes
in the way in which the slow movement larghetto is allowed more space to develop.
I have to admit, however, that, heard on their own without direct
comparison, Akiko Sagara, the Luxembourg Radio Orchestra and Pierre Cao do
justice to the music.
Howard Shelley and LMP have already recorded Cramer’s Piano Concertos Nos.
2, 7 and 8 for Chandos (CHAN10005 –
review) and I’m pleased that Hyperion have not duplicated any part of that
recording but have supplemented it. We’ve had to wait 17 years since
Christopher Fifield reported on that ‘superb disc’, but the wait has been
Just as the Jupiter Project led me to Shelley’s new Hyperion
recording, so that led me back further to the Chandos, as downloaded in
24/96 sound, with pdf booklet, from
chandos.net. There, too, it’s difficult to imagine that even Cramer himself,
prodigious pianist as he was, could have bettered the solo performance. And
it’s unlikely that the orchestras of the time would have matched the London
Mozart Players. I’ve been a fan of theirs since, long ago, they were
directed by Harry Blech on LP and in concert on the South Bank and, while I might have
preferred period instruments, just as I would have liked to hear the solo
part on something like David Owen Norris’s Broadwood, I didn’t really feel
I’ve seen it suggested that Shelley and the LMP make Cramer’s music sound
better than it really is. That’s the kind of magic that Beecham used to
bring off in works like Balakirev’s Symphony – the EMI recording sadly, no
longer available1 – and I certainly think it would be hard to
better these performances of Cramer on Hyperion and Chandos. They were a
real ear-opener for me, with showy but not show-off realisations of the
solo parts. With five of the eight in the can, may we have the other
concertos now, please?
I should add that the Chandos recording for the earlier album is very good,
too, especially in 24-bit guise, and that Steve Lindeman’s notes set off
that recording extremely well. I really cannot decide which to recommend
that you choose first – preferably both.
But there’s a 3-CD ICA box of broadcast recordings from the Richard Itter
archives (ICAC5158). BnF offer a very expensive download of Beecham’s Tamara, once available on an EMI CD with the Symphony; coupled with
Dvořák Symphonic Variations, it can be found for as little as £1.99
in lossless sound.
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