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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friedrich Kalkbrenner - Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 (Howard Shelley)


Composer: Friedrich Kalkbrenner
  1. Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 85: I. Allegro maestoso
  2. Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 85: II. La tranquilité. Adagio nin troppo
  3. Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 85: III. Rondo. Allegretto grazioso
  4. Piano Concerto No. 3 in A minor, Op. 107: I. Allegro moderato
  5. Piano Concerto No. 3 in A minor, Op. 107: II. Introduzione del Rondo. Maestoso sostenuto
  6. Piano Concerto No. 3 in A minor, Op. 107: III. Rondo. Allegro vivace
  7. Adagio ed Allegro di bravura, Op. 102

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Howard Shelley, piano & conductor

Date: 2012
Label: Hyperion



Friedrich (Frédéric) Wilhelm Michael Kalkbrenner (1785-1849) is remembered – if at all – as the figure who famously offered to teach a certain Fryderyk Chopin all he knew, with the Pole equally famously turning down his kind offer. Like many figures who attain considerable success in their own lifetimes, Kalkbrenner’s posthumous reputation has been demolished with a certain amount of glee by musical commentators down the decades – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that his ego was as legendary as his pianistic dexterity. His brilliance as a pianist is certainly borne out by the treacherous difficulty of his four concertos, Nos 1 and 4 of which appeared in Vol 41 of Hyperion’s justly acclaimed series (10/06).

There’s no lessening of brilliance or notes per minute in this second instalment but what is remarkable about Howard Shelley’s performances is the insight they offer into the era itself. Kalkbrenner’s Third Concerto dates from 1829, the year before Chopin’s two youthful concertos. It was a period when you could construct a work from a few standard devices and then embellish to your heart’s content, limited only by your imagination, good taste or pianistic technique. In the hands of a genius such as Chopin, Weber or Mendelssohn, you’d end up with something that transcended its origins. In the hands of a first-rate second-rater such as Hummel or Moscheles, the result was unfailingly ebullient and diverting, and sometimes considerably more than that. And then there are the also-rans, Kalkbrenner among them – those composers whose music lives or dies depending on its interpreters.

By this reckoning, Shelley is a formidable presence both as soloist and conductor. Yes, he has the technique and dexterity to play this music; but he also understands how to make the most of the orchestral writing (which, it has to be said, is frequently more interesting than Chopin’s). Listen, for instance, to his way with the grandiose opening of the Adagio ed Allegro di bravura, bringing out its Beethovenian tinges (and the surely intentional reference to the first movement of the latter’s Violin Concerto). And when it comes to pure musical silliness, such as the finale of the Second Concerto, spewing out notes in all directions with all the gravitas of a party-popper, he avoids the temptation to camp up the music, instead letting its frivolity speak for itself. There’s a considerable grace to his playing too – his immersion in repertoire of this period has given him an innate understanding of what makes it tick. So a big thumbs-up for Shelley and his fellow musicians, even if Kalkbrenner is hardly the kind of composer with whom you’d want to be stuck on a desert island.

-- Harriet Smith, Gramophone

More reviews:


Friedrich Kalkbrenner (November 2–8, 1785 – June 10, 1849) was a German-born pianist, composer, piano teacher and piano manufacturer. Kalkbrenner studied at the Paris Conservatoire starting at a young age and lived most of his life in Paris. At his peak, Kalkbrenner was considered to be the foremost pianist in Europe, with Johann Nepomuk Hummel as his only serious rival. Kalkbrenner was a prolific composer but not much of his huge output has survived. Kalkbrenner had quite a few pupils and some of them became fine pianists and sometimes also good composers.


Howard Shelley (born 9 March 1950) is a British pianist and conductor. He was educated at Highgate School and the Royal College of Music. As pianist he has performed, broadcast and recorded around the world with leading orchestras and conductors. He made many recordings for Chandos, Hyperion and EMI, including Rachmaninov's complete piano music and concertos. As a conductor, he has held positions of Associate and Principal Guest Conductor with the London Mozart Players in a close relationship of over twenty years.


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