Piano Concertos Nos 1, 3 and 6
London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley (piano)
Hyperion CDA68302 78:00 mins
Johann Baptist Cramer was highly rated by composer-pianist contemporaries –Beethoven among them – and this second instalment in Howard Shelley’s ongoing concertos cycle offers convincing evidence as to why. All three works have individuality and substance; and it’s hard to imagine they can ever have been much better played. There are just a few moments – for instance the chords of the piano’s first entry in Concerto No. 1, which sound over-full (rather than actually over-loud) on Shelley’s modern concert grand – where you miss the feel and articulation of a classical-period piano. In every other respect the immaculate playing here is alert and personable in a way that transcends contentious issues of style.
In Concertos Nos 1 and 3 Cramer’s fluent mastery of the classical idiom of the time is already comprehensive, with passages in which a personal voice clearly emerges – as in the Third Concerto’s warmly lilting Pastoral e sostenuto central movement. The surprising downside comes in the Sixth Concerto, dating from Cramer’s early 40s: while naturally more expansive and mature, it also conveys a more studied, what-shall-I-do-here approach. A quality answer is always found in each case: but somehow awareness of the issue remains too, and has you missing the natural freshness of the two earlier works.