COMPOSERS: Abel,JC Bach,Philip Hayes & Hook
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The World’s First Piano Concertos
WORKS: Works by JC Bach, Abel, Philip Hayes & Hook
PERFORMER: David Owen Norris (square piano); Sonnerie
CATALOGUE NO: AV 0014
‘The World’s First Piano Concertos’ is a bold claim. But David Owen Norris argues persuasively in his note that most of the works here were among the earliest, if not the earliest concertos conceived primarily for the new fortepiano. In London c1770 ‘fortepiano’ meant the tiny square piano pioneered by Johannes Zumpe, with its delicate, faintly jangly tone (shades of the dulcimer, even the music box) and hazy resonance – qualities that JC Bach, especially, seems to have taken into account in his sonatas and concertos. Owen Norris includes two typically mellifluous works from Bach’s Op. 7 set, plus one of the concertos Mozart arranged from Bach keyboard sonatas. Two rarities are the sturdy, tuneful concertos by Philip Hayes and James Hook, the former looking back to Handel, the latter more up-to-date, with Scottish folk tunes, real or fake, in both the slow movement and the lusty finale.
The bright glitter of the two restored square pianos used here can come to seem a shade relentless, especially in the close acoustic; and the prolonged resonance, attractive in slower-moving music, inevitably blurs some of the rapid passagework. But Owen Norris is a lively advocate of both instrument and music, with many deft and witty touches of timing (though on occasion he can be dangerously free with expressive rubato) and a subtle feeling for the tender galanterie of the slow movements, while the accompanying string trio play with plenty of character and rhythmic life. On this showing the square piano remains a limited and slightly problematic instrument. But I’m glad to have heard it played with such skill in some appealing, little-known repertoire. Richard Wigmore