Hermann Goetz Piano Concertos – Brahms’ rival?

According to George Bernard Shaw, “Hermann Goetz alone among the modern symphonists is easily and unaffectedly successful from beginning to end. He has the charm of Schubert… the refinement and inspiration of Mendelssohn… Schumann’s sense of harmonic expression… Brahms, who alone touches [Goetz] in mere brute musical faculty, is a dolt in comparison to him.”

That last sentence may be overreaching, but in the 1870s Goetz’s star was on the rise. Unfortunately, he died in 1876 at the age of 36, leaving the promise unfulfilled (and Brahms unchallenged). While Shaw may have been overenthusiastic about Goetz’s music, he did articulate the essence of his style. Goetz’s music has a warmth to it that owes more to Schubert than Beethoven.

Goetz completed his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1860, just two years after Brahms’ first. Goetz’s concerto is lighter and more transparent in sound, compared to Brahms’. To me, it did indeed sound Mendelssohnian, with a gorgeous middle movement that wouldn’t be out of place in a Schubert work. That’s not to say Goetz is derivative. It’s just that he leans more towards the aesthetic of the early romantic composers than Brahms did.

The second concerto, premiered in 1867, came out a year after Grieg’s. While it’s a brawnier composition than Goetz’s first concerto, there’s still a lightness to it when compared to Grieg’s.

Also included on this release is the 1864 Spring Overture. If you like Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, this overture is for you. Goetz may not have lived up to Shaw’s assessment, but his music is still well-constructed and purposeful — and worth listening to.

His melodies are beautiful, and they’re set over some rich harmonies, but none of its just for show. There are structure and purpose in Goetz’s writing which provides a solid underpinning to the pretty surface.

Davide Cabassi delivers committed performances, giving the music some emotional weight. The Magdeburg Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Kimbo Ishii have a good ensemble blend that balances lushness and clarity.

Hermann Goetz: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Spring Overture
Davide Cabassi, piano
Magdeburg Philharmonic Orchestra; Kimbo Ishii, conductor
Naxos 8.573327

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