MacDOWELL:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 15.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23. Hexentanz, Op. 17 No. 2.  Romance for Cello & Orchestra, Op. 35.
Stephen Prutsman, pianist/Aisling Drury Byrne, cellist/National Symphony Orch. of Ireland, Arthur Fagan, cond.

NAXOS 8.559049  (B) (DDD)  TT:  58:06


MacDOWELL:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 15.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23.  Second Modern Suite, Op. 14
Seta Tanyel, pianist/BBC Scottish Symphony Orch, Martyn Brabbins, cond.

HYPERION  CDA 67165 (F) (DDD) TT:  77:10

Here are two new versions of both MacDowell piano concertos in splendid performances recorded, for the most part, in fine sound.  A superb pianist, MacDowell also knew how to write for the piano. His Concerto No. 1 was hastily written  in 1882 for his teacher, Joseph Joachim Raff.  The young composer told Raff he had written a concerto when he actually had only thought of writing one.  When Raff wanted to see it, MacDowell fortunately was able to put the event off for a few weeks until the concerto was finished.   Raff liked it so much he sent the young composer to Wiemar to play it for Liszt.  The master, now more than seventy and revered in Europe, greatly impressed with both the composer and the concerto, arranged for its publication and then MacDowell dedicated it to Liszt. Concerto No.1 opens with powerful unaccompanied piano statements, an effect also utilized in the second concerto, although not at the beginning.  The exquisite second movement Andante tranquillo is the highlight of the first concerto. The final Presto is a vivid showpiece for the soloist, including passages marked impetuoso e rapido possible and prestissimo.

Concerto No. 2, composed 1884-1886, had its premier in New York March 5, 1889 with MacDowell as soloist.  At the same concert the Theodore Thomas Orchestra played the American premiere of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. One critic enjoyed the concerto more than the symphony.  The concerto is dedicated to Teresa Carre˝o, one of the composer's major teachers. Technically it is more demanding for the soloist than the earlier concerto. The opening Larghetto calmato is longer than the other two movements combined, opening with a soft orchestral introduction prior to massive chordal statements by the soloist.  The second movement is a dazzling Presto, the third begins with a restatement of the piano's first-movement opening followed by a vivacious Molto allegro

There are three fine recordings of Concerto No. 2:  Van Cliburn on RCA, Earl Wild on Chesky and Andr╚ Watts on Telarc all of which have couplings other than the Concerto No. 1. Both concertos can be found  together with Thomas Tirino on Centaur, Derek Han on Pro Arte  and with Donna Amato on Olympia.  I've only heard the latter and find it disappointing.  Although Stephen Prutsman has never won any major competitions, he obviously is in the pianistic major league.  He played for the soundtrack of Immortal Beloved, the biopic about Beethoven.  His few recordings (so far) range from Bach and Mozart through Bridge and Rachmaninoff.  Here he makes an auspicious addition to his discography. The manifold virtuoso difficulties of the MacDowell concertos hold no terrors for him, and he is given fine accompaniment by the  Irish orchestra under American conductor Arthur Fagen who has won major competitions.  The only debit here is engineering that has the upper part of the piano somewhat recessed.  Aside from that, the sound stage is full and resonant. Naxos has provided two attractive if brief bonuses:  the piano/orchestra arrangement of Witches' Dance and a lovely Romance for Cello and Orchestra.  Even with these, playing time is slightly less than an hour, not too much of a problem considering the budget price..

Hyperion's full-price recording is Volume 25 of their Romantic Piano Concerto series.  Seta Tanyel is known for her many recordings of virtuoso repertory and she does not disappoint.  Conductor Martyn Brabbins displays uncommon sensitivity in the accompaniments (the exquisite one-minute orchestral interlude in the Second Concerto's finale, beginning at 5:50 in this recording, is the best I've heard).  The recording, made in Caird Hall, Dundee, with Tony Faulkner as engineer, vividly captures the full scope of both orchestra and the solo instrument. The Second Modern Suite, Op. 14 for solo piano makes a generous filler (23:11). This was written in 1882 and dedicated to MacDowell's teacher's wife.  There are six varied movements:  Prelude, Fugue, Rhapsodie, Scherzino, March and Fantasy-Dance.

Both recordings of the two concertos are highly recommended, with a nod to the Hyperion for its superior piano sound.

R.E.B. (March 2001)