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The Piano Concerto
Part 3 – The Lesser-Known and Rarely-Performed

Ferruccio Busoni © cdn.britannica.com

Ferruccio Busoni © cdn.britannica.com

Since the invention of the piano in the 18th century, composers have placed the instrument centre stage, pitting it against the might of an orchestra to create music which ranks amongst the greatest in the repertoire.

Of course, the repertoire is so vast that it is simply not possible to programme and perform all the works within the category of “piano concerto”, yet some lesser-known and forgotten concertos definitely merit inclusion. I asked a group of concert pianists to nominate their choices in the lesser-known category and the resulting list is surprisingly long and varied, of which the following is just a small selection.

Hans Gál © Wikipedia

Hans Gál © Wikipedia

Ferruccio Busoni’s Piano Concerto is a substantial work which lasts around an hour. It calls for large forces – a choir as well as a big orchestra – which may be why it is rarely performed.

Ferruccio Busoni: Piano Concerto, Op. 39
Hans Gál’s Concerto for Piano & Orchestra was recently recorded by British pianist Sarah Beth Briggs with conductor Kenneth Woods. This large-scale concerto has everything you could wish for – dramatic interplay between soloist and orchestra, virtuosity and sweeping romantic phrases. And if you like Brahms, you’ll enjoy this.

Erik Chisholm © Wikipedia

Erik Chisholm
© Wikipedia

Erik Chisholm’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is also called the ‘Hindustani’ Concerto. This strikingly original work was composed in 1949 and uses Indian scales, ragas and rhythms to underpin its structure (hence its nickname), reflecting the composer’s world travels.

Benjamin Britten © www.listenmusicculture.com

Benjamin Britten © www.listenmusicculture.com

Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto in D. Despite Britten’s prowess at the piano, he wrote surprisingly little for the instrument. His Piano Concerto has considerable emotional heft combined with bravura passages for the soloist.

Benjamin Britten: Piano Concerto, Op. 13
Ernest Chausson © Wikipedia

Ernest Chausson © Wikipedia

Ernest Chausson’s Concerto for piano, violin and string quartet is warm and melodic, and uses chromatic harmonies and a passionate lyrical style typical of late nineteenth century French music. It is a very beautiful and sincere work.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold © img.apmcdn.org

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
© img.apmcdn.org

Ernest Chausson: Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet in D Major, Op. 21
Erich Wolfgang Korngold – Piano Concerto for the left hand. Written for Paul Wittgenstein (who lost his right arm in the First World War and for whom Ravel wrote his left hand concerto), this single-movement concerto is full of harmonic imagination and contrasting moods.

Other rarely-heard piano concertos worth investigating:

Moszkowski: Piano Concerto in E major
Stanford: Piano Concerto in C minor
Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto in C major
Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor
Dohnányi: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor
Glazunov: Piano Concerto in F minor
Dvorak: Piano Concerto in G minor
Henselt: Piano Concerto in F minor
Litolff: Concerto Symphonique No. 4

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Comments

  1. How about the Raff Piano Concerto? (Maybe his best work?) What of the 2 Stenhammar concertos? The recently recorded Godard concertos seem delightful to me! Maybe the Gernsheim concerto?

  2. Back, I think, in the mid-to-late 1960s, at a time when Leonard Bernstein and others were promoting the works of Mahler, Ives and Bruckner to classical audiences, either Bernstein or radio classical music host Karl Haas advanced the cause of a piano concerto composed by a little-known composer. The work was recorded — (back then, it was on a 33-1/3 RPM long-playing record). I purchased that record — but years ago gave all my LP records away. Would anyone out there know whose work that might be? Sorry, I can’t give you more to go on than that. I’ve gone through a number of Internet sites (which I “Googled” in as “piano concerto from little-known composers”) but none of the names any of those sites brings up rings a bell.

  3. The Raff Concerto is my first choice among piano concertos excluded from the “final exam” repertoire. Beautifully written. Those who study this score will notice that all the material is developed from a single motive and its inversion presented at the beginning of the first movement. Each movement features some passages in double counterpoint. Yet for all the “learning” the music never sounds pedantic. Is full of lush melodies and fleet-fingered piano writing. There is a perfect balance of piano and orchestra. This is not one of those titanic struggles between soloist and orchestra (Brahms, Henselt, Rubinstein, Rachmaninoff) nor between a dominating piano over a thinly scored, subservient orchestra (Chopin, Paganini (violin)). The Raff concerto was a favorite of many pianists in its time, most notably Hans von Bulow who gave the first performance. Enormously influential, it looks both to the past (Beethoven – developmental technique) and the future (Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto – unison writing soloist and orchestra, Prokofiev 3rd – brilliant unison passagework for piano in the finale, Ravel G Major – divertimento character). This is among Raff’s best known scores, coming from the height of his popularity in the decade of the 1870s. However, the Mount Everest of his total instrumental production is in my opinion the two Piano Quartets, Op.202 which are almost concerto-like or perhaps symphonic in character. Music like this is proof that Raff is here to stay. Definitely worth exploring.

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