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Mayr: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Stern, Gazarian

Mayr: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Stern, Gazarian

Ars Produktion  ARS 38 294

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mayr: Piano Concertos 1 & 2
Haydn: Symphony No. 25

Edna Stern (piano)
Georgisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt
Ruben Gazarian (conductor)

 

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - October 29, 2019

Ruben Gazarian has recorded with different orchestras and labels with varying success. Was it due to the orchestra, the label or both? As far as I’m concerned, the ones he did with his Georgisches Kammerorchester for ARS Produktion have, without exception, harvested very positive reviews indeed. Reason enough to look forward with much anticipation to his fourth album with this label, once again engineered by Manfred Schumacher and Martin Rust.

The Haydn Symphony, with which the programme opens, may, by any standard, be regarded as regular fare for an ensemble of such proven professionalism - as amply demonstrated in previous releases. Well played, well recorded. So, without trying to duck detailed judgement, I’d like to move on, because there is more, much more to discover.

The first surprise is that we get here the world premiere of both piano concerti of a composer few people, including me, would have heard of before: Johan Simon Mayr (Not to be confused with Rupert Ignaz Mayr). He lived from 1763 till 1845. Half Haydn, not really Beethoven, one might say. Not exactly a renovator either. But nonetheless a highly regarded composer in his time. At least that’s what Donizetti and Bellini said (according to the liner notes) about ‘the father of the Italian opera’. I don’t know about his operas, but judging by these two piano concerti I can confirm that he knew his metier inside out. The reason why we’ve never, or hardly ever heard of him is no doubt, like other composers at the time, because of his misfortune to live in de shadow of some of the major composers of that era.

(The liner notes reveal much detail. While Mayr may not have been a renovator as far as composing is concerned, socially a different, more rebellious picture emerges: Wanted by the police because of having joined the ‘Illuminati’, which, I presume, was ‘The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati’, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on 1 May 1776, he had to flee to Italy. That’s where he became the father of the opera).

The second surprise is the soloist, Edna Stern. Not just the fact that she is a much-lauded artist, as we have learned from previous recordings with other labels (all RBCD’s), but for her precise and articulated playing in these concerti. There is, effectively, no doubt in my mind that Edna Stern. with her stylish and intelligent approach, as well as Gazarian inspiring his musicians to light and lively playing, have both contributed to extracting the concerti from the, unfortunately, vast reservoir of musical oblivion.

Mayr is not the only ‘forgotten’ composer. Many more have come my way and in many cases I had to admit that, however appealing they seemed upon first hearing, they missed the genius that made the usual suspects stay. Mayr’s idiom is clearly Haydn’s and one could easily be led into believing that two more Haydn keyboard concerti have come to the surface. For an experienced musicologist perhaps not quite. On close scrutiny one will discover that Haydn’s musical choices are richer, but not by much.

With Gazarian keeping a fine balance between strings and winds, thus dressing an ideal background for the soloist to shine, we have gotten here a wonderful and highly enjoyable discovery for which all involved deserve top marks. I’m sure, knowing that Mayer once lived there, the people of Ingolstadt will be very pleased as well.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2019 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comment by hiredfox - January 6, 2020 (1 of 1)

Famously, Hyperion issued a whole series of forgotten or neglected piano concertii under their "Romantic Piano Concerto" series of RBCD recordings with one or two making it to SA-CD. As Adrian has observed many had wonderfully moving and evocative tunes and it is difficult to understand today why so many beautiful pieces of music have failed to establish themselves in the core classical repertoire.

One of the most famous examples now making a comeback (on radio at least) is Henry Litolff's Concerto Symphonique No. 4 in D minor but then again one rarely hears more of it than the scherzo played by Peter Donohue in a recording made with Andrew Litton and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra nearly 30 years ago. There are other fine neglected examples like that of Paderewski's Concerto for Piano in A minor, Op. 17, not to my knowledge available on SA-CD.

Historically, the pure snobbery, arrogance and elitism of the classical music establishment surely will have played a part in what has or has not become fashionable, one suspects that a work that had too wide an appeal would have been regarded as a pastiche and superficial.

In these more enlightened times perhaps many of these long neglected works can make a comeback on their own merits. In that spirt I will follow Adrian's lead and buy this disc even 'though the works are unknown to me.