Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for piano left hand & orchestra
Concerto for piano left hand (or piano) & orchestra in E flat major (No.2)
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After tragically losing his right arm in World War I, pianist Paul Wittgenstein sought out works for the left-hand that would save his career. Thanks to his family's considerable wealth, he was able to commission pieces from the major composers of his day, including Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel, Sergey Prokofiev, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Paul Hindemith, and Benjamin Britten. Yet of all who wrote concertos and chamber works for him, Wittgenstein preferred Franz Schmidt above all others, and still expressed his admiration for him years later, when the composer was dead and forgotten. The "Concertante Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for piano, left-hand, and orchestra" is based on a melody taken from the Scherzo of the "Violin Sonata No. 5, Spring." Schmidt deploys every conceivable trick and mood to vary this quirky, syncopated tune, and maintains remarkably clear textures and a light, playful tone throughout. The "Concerto in E flat major for piano, left-hand, and orchestra" is altogether different in feeling, resembling Schmidt's symphonies in its serious tone and following a course of development that is symphonic in scope. This CPO release by pianist Markus Becker and the NDR Radiophilharmonie, conducted by Eiji Ouè, presents both the "Beethoven Variations" and the "Piano Concerto" with expressive playing, coherent interpretation, and terrific sound. The piano and orchestra are well-balanced and carefully separated, so every part is audible, and the soloist is centrally placed and clearly heard, even when the accompaniment is at its thickest. Listeners who enjoy rich, post-Romantic music and collectors of Schmidt's music will find this disc pleasurable and add it to their libraries posthaste.