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Readers who buy second-hand music may recognise Franz Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924) as co-editor of Augener’s old Chopin edition. Chopin remained a distinct influence on Scharwenka’s own music, alongside (more obviously) Liszt, Brahms and possibly Grieg. CD collectors will know Earl Wild’s celebrated 1969 recording of Concerto No 1; all four concertos have since appeared separately on Hyperion’s continuing Romantic Piano Concerto series (see p89 for the latest instalment). There, the solo workload was humanely shared out among Marc-André Hamelin, Seta Tanyel and Stephen Hough – here, Moscow-trained Alexander Markovich takes on these torrents of notes unaided.

Scharwenka dedicated the 1877 First Concerto to Liszt, far outdoing him in thickly ornamented melodies, posturing cadenzas and thunderous pedalled double octaves. This is music for which the word ‘shouty’ might have been invented, and it’s interesting that Mahler, of all people, chose this concerto for his only known public appearance as piano soloist. Consciously or not, Scharwenka’s own Third Concerto returned the compliment, its finale sounding uncannily like Mahler himself. The close of the Second Concerto’s slow movement, and its Krakowiak-like finale, provide a welcome thinning out of texture: elsewhere, the relentless virtuosity is wearing in large doses, despite Markovich’s attempts to lighten things up by scampering over some of the passagework.

Markovich’s stamina is astounding. Chandos has put us in its debt by making all these works so easily available: 50 years ago, there would have been no chance of hearing them at all.

GRAHAM LOCK Read the full review on Agora Classica


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