Macdowell: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Second Modern Suite

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COMPOSERS: Macdowell
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Second Modern Suite
PERFORMER: Seta Tanyel (piano); BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67165
This new Hyperion version of these works – MacDowell making rather a delayed entry, I would have thought, in its ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ series – seems even better than Stephen Pruslin’s recent Naxos issue. Tanyel’s playing is cleaner and more decisive; and as she proved on her long-running Scharwenka series for Collins, she can totally identify with this kind of post-Lisztian lyric bravura style. She manages to make even the First Concerto’s cheery Presto finale seem like a well considered piece of musical architecture, and her eloquence in the Second Concerto totally convinces you of its stature. She’s aided by understanding support from the BBC Scottish SO under Brabbins, totally at one with her in treating MacDowell with all the seriousness he could possibly have wished, and bringing out more clearly than other versions the sheer effectiveness of his orchestration. Hyperion’s sound also seems to me superior, with a wider range of dynamics and less constricted ambience.

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Naxos has, of course, a bargain-price advantage; couplings will perhaps determine a final choice. Naxos tacks on two short, effective MacDowell potboilers for solo instrument and orchestra. Hyperion instead separates the two concertos with an early and highly inventive solo piano suite (a first recording?). Its assured fugato, Brahmsian ‘Rhapsodie’ movement and raffish (or Raffian) march cast new light on the first American composer to cut a real figure on the international stage. Calum MacDonald