WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Hexentanz; Romance for Cello & Orchestra
PERFORMER: Stephen Prutsman (piano), Aisling Drury Byrne (cello); National SO of Ireland/Arthur Fagen
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559049
As the first piano concertos of note written by an American, the ones by Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) have their historical significance, and they maintain their finger-hold on the repertoire by virtue of solid musical qualities. The First Concerto (1882) may be a little bit like a Walt Disney idea of a Romantic piano concerto, all soulful songful, melodic writing and prestidigital high jinks, but its attractions are undeniable. The Second Concerto (1889) is altogether more substantial – not much deeper, but sturdily put together, beautifully crafted and convincingly occupying its chronological and stylistic niche between Grieg and Rachmaninoff. Its most imaginative movement is the quicksilver central scherzo; the piano/orchestra arrangement of Hexentanz, originally a piano solo, is a bravura display piece of similar kind.
MacDowell, the original soloist in these works, must have been a formidable keyboard player: they tend to support the observation by a contemporary critic that he was a prestissimo pianist who could play fast more easily than play slow. The Romance for cello and orchestra is more of a sentimental potboiler, but worth an occasional hearing. These are strong, committed performances in very good sound. Stephen Prutsman has the faultless finger technique that MacDowell demands. Although Earl Wild and Van Cliburn, among others, have recorded the Second Concerto, I would say that this new bargain-price version is the one to acquire, though you might be able to track down Donna Amato’s splendid coupling of both concertos on Olympia. Calum MacDonald