Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
Tasmania Symphony Orchestra/Howard Shelley (piano)
Hyperion CDA68319 73:12 mins
Here’s one of the most obscure discoveries in Hyperion’s long-running Romantic Piano Concerto series. According to the informative booklet note, Stéphan Elmas (1862-1937) was a widely admired child prodigy pianist, and enjoyed the distinction of being the first composer of Armenian descent to write piano concertos. He dedicated a set of Études to Liszt in 1884 and befriended influential musicians such as Jules Massenet. After a severe hearing loss in 1897, his career took a nosedive. Settling in Geneva, aged 50, Elmas withdrew from public life, becoming increasingly bitter at his isolation.
Judging from these two works, Elmas’s musical idiom was hardly original, owing a great deal to Chopin. His piano writing is highly idiomatic, and he has an uncanny knack of writing memorable lyrical melodies for the slow movements in both these works. On the debit side, his opening movements are far too long-winded and discursive for their own good, and there is too much reliance on bombastic passage work. Nonetheless, it would be hard to find a more highly committed advocate for this music than Howard Shelley who masters all the considerable technical challenges of these works with consummate ease, and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra offers sturdy and reliable support throughout.