Litolff: Concerto symphonique No. 3 in E flat; Concerto symphonique No. 5 in C minor

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Concerto symphonique No. 3 in E flat; Concerto symphonique No. 5 in C minor
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano); BBC Scottish SO/Andrew Litton
The London-born but itinerant piano virtuoso Henry Litolff, a larger-than-life character who was thrice married, escaped from a debtors’ prison and found himself a political fugitive, was a man of irrepressible brilliance, and it shows in his music. These concertos symphoniques – the adjective signals a certain ambition which Litolff without doubt possessed in spades – present two sides of the man. No. 3 was intended as a gesture of thanks to the Dutch for providing him with his freedom after his notorious escape. It is a work of genuine warmth, making use of Dutch songs in two movements and containing a gorgeously warm slow movement. But it is also almost impossibly effervescent, the piano part absurdly busy, and what drama it contains is conventional. This primarily decorative music makes a strong contrast with No. 5, whose aspirations, as its C minor tonality might suggest, are altogether more serious, its moods darker, more complex, more heroic, though it is no less ear-tickling on its surface. A thoroughly bizarre finale epitomises the conflict of profound aspiration and a facility that always refuses to be denied in Litolff’s work. All of which is meat and drink for the strength and facility and the brilliant sound of the pianist Peter Donohoe. He is the ideal man for such music, while the BBC Scottish SO under Andrew Litton offers razor-sharp support. A wonderfully clear recording by Andrew Keener. Stephen Pettitt

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