Paul Wee Recovers Henselt and Bronsart Concertos

If this album could have been recorded in the 1890s, it would have had a very different dynamic. Back then, this program would have paired one of the most famous concertos in the world with one of the most obscure. 

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Now this program pairs two piano concerts almost equal in obscurity. But now — as then — both are worth hearing. And both can deliver an emotionally satisfying listening experience. 

Adolf von Henselt was considered one of the greatest piano virtuosi of the early 1800s. Franz Lizst envied his technique. And his sojourn in Russia influenced generations of Russian pianists — including Sergei Rachmaninov. 

Henselt’s Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 16 was premiered by Clara Schumann in 1845, with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. As one modern critic noted, “It was the Rachmaninov Second of its day.” 

All the major pianists performed the work, and often more than once. It’s easy to hear why. Like Rachmaninov’s concerto, it’s a big work. The melodies are big, the piano passages are big, the emotions are big. And that makes it a real crowd-pleaser. 

It’s also a well-constructed work. Henselt unfolds his themes in a logical (though exceptionally dramatic) fashion. 

Henselt withdrew from music in his thirties. And perhaps that’s why this concert eventually fell out of the repertoire. 

By contrast, Hans Bronsart von Schellendorf’s music never enjoyed much attention. Bronsart was one of Franz List’s prime students. He even premiered Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto (with the composer conducting). But Bronast transitioned from composing to conducting, and then theater management. His compositional output was small and under-valued by audiences. 

The piece shows Bronsart had the technical skill to write a challenging concerto. And he had the compositional skills to make it an engaging and compelling work. 

Paul Wee performs these concertos with abandon. His technique is formidable, and he employs every bit of it in this work. 

The Swedish Chamber Orchestra is directed by Michael Collins. The ensemble has an impressively big sound. These concertos were meant for flamboyant artists to thrill audiences with their artistry. 

Paul Yee, supported by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, does just that. My recommendation: press play, and enjoy the ride. I did.

Adolph von Henselt; Hans von Bronsart: Piano Concertos
Paul Wee, piano
Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Michael Collins, conductor
BIS-2715 SACD

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