WEBER: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Pollaca Brillante (Benjamin Frith/ Chris Craker/ Proinnsias O Duinn/ RTE Sinfonietta) (Naxos: 8.550959)
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Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major, Op. 11 (1.98)
Piano Concerto No.2 in E Flat Major, Op. 32 (1.155)
Polacca Brillante (L'hilarite), Op. 72 (J. 268)
Konzertst??ck in F Minor, Op. 79 (J.282)
There is an operatic element in much of the music of Weber, composer of thefirst great German romantic opera, Der Freisch??tz. Much of the childhoodof Carl Maria von Weber had been spent travelling with the theatrical companydirected by his father, Franz Anton Weber, uncle of Mozart's wife Constanze andlike his brother, Constanze's father, at one time associated with the famousMannheim orchestra. At the time of Weber's birth his father was still in theservice of the Bishop of L??beck and during the course of an extended visit toVienna had taken a second wife, an actress and singer, who became an importantmember of the family theatre company established in 1788.
Weber's musical gifts were fostered by his father, who saw in his youngestson the possibility of a second Mozart. Travel brought the chance of varied ifinconsistent study, in Salzburg with Michael Haydn and elsewhere with musiciansof lesser ability. His second opera was performed in Freiberg in 1800, followedby a third, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (Peter Schmoll and HisNeighbours), in Augsburg in 1803. Lessons with the Abbe Vogler led to a positionas Kapellmeister in Breslau in 1804, brought to a premature end through thehostility of musicians long established in the city and through the accidentaldrinking of engraving acid, left by his father in a wine-bottle.
A brief an idyllic period in the service of Duke Eugen of W??rttemberg-?ûlsat Karlsruhe was followed by three years as secretary to Duke Ludwig ofW??rttemberg, a younger brother of the reigning Duke. The financial dealings ofWeber's father, who had joined him there, led to imprisonment and expulsion, anda return to a career as an active musician, at first mainly as a pianist,appearing in the principal cities of Germany. A short stay in Berlin provedfruitful, before his appointment to the opera in Prague in 1813. In 1817 he wasinvited to Dresden, where it was hoped he would establish German opera, althoughthe first performance of Der Freisch??tz was eventually given in Berlinin 1821. While the rival Italian opera in Dresden continued to cause Webertrouble, he was invited to write an opera for Vienna. Euryanthe, described as agrand heroic-Romantic opera, with a libretto by the blue-stocking authoress ofSchubert's Rosamunde, had a mixed reception.
In spite of deteriorating health, the result of tuberculosis, Weber accepteda commission from Covent Garden for an English opera, Oberon, and thiswas first performed there in April 1826 under the direction of the composer.
Weber was a pioneer in the use of the conductor's baton and his first appearancebefore the orchestra with this potential weapon caused initial alarm amongEnglish musicians at his possibly aggressive intentions. The English weathercould only further damage his health and he died during the night of 4th June onthe eve of his intended departure for Germany.
Weber's achievement was both considerable and in influential. In German operahe had opened a new and rich vein that subsequent composers were to explore: asan orchestrator he demonstrated new possibilities, particularly in the handlingof wind instruments, while as a conductor and director of performances heinstituted a number of reforms, as he had first attempted as an adolescentKapellmeister in Breslau. In style his music follows classical principles ofclarity, with a particular lyrical facility shown both in his operas and vocalcompositions and in his instrumental works.
On their expulsion from W??rttemberg in February 1810, Weber and his fathertravelled from Stuttgart to Mannheim, the former thereafter visiting Heidelhergand making use of introductions provided for him by his friend Franz Danzi,Kapellmeister in Stuttgart, but a former member of the orchestras of Mannheimand of Munich. Weber was able to give the first performance of the first of histwo piano concertos, the Concerto in C major, Opus 11, in Mannheim on 19thNovember. He had completed the second and third movements in May and thetechnically more demanding first movement on 23rd August in Darmstadt and hadplanned to introduce the work at a concert in Frankfurt in October, an eventforestalled by disturbances in the city. The concerto provides a connectionbetween the world of Mozart and Beethoven and the generation of Romantics tocome, something even more evident in the Konzertst??ck of 1821. The firstmovement is classical in form, with an orchestral exposition started by thestrings and a solo bassoon doubling the cello. The soloist enters with aversionof the principal theme already announced by the orchestra at the outset and abrilliant transition leads to a lyrical second subject, material ingeniouslydeveloped, before the recapitulation. The A Hat major slow movement isremarkable in its scoring for violas, two solo cellos, double bass and twohorns, giving a darker and richer sonority to the music, and is followed by abrilliant final Presto with a principal theme based on the arpeggio. ThroughoutWeber's piano music intended for his own use there are considerable technicaldemands. His own hands had a particularly wide stretch, allowing him, on theslightly narrower keyboard of the day, with its more delicate touch, to reachchords including a tenth.
The Piano Concerto No.2 in E flat major, Opus 32, was completed in1812 at Gotha and dedicated to the eccentric but enthusiastic Duke Emil LeopoldAugust of Saxe-Gotha. Weber gave the first performance on 17th December 1812 atcourt, including the concerto in following concerts on New Year's Day 1813 inLeipzig and on 6th March in Prague. Once again he first w rote and performed alater movement, making use of the final rondo of the new concerto with the firsttwo movements of the earlier work at a concert in Munich in the autumn of 1811,although, as he pointed out to a friend, the new rondo was very different inspirit, a brave piece of Sturm und Drang. The influence of Beethoven's EmperorConcerto is evident in Weber's new concerto. He had bought a copy of thatwork in 1811 and in his own concerto followed the same key pattern, with a Bmajor slow movement separating the outer E Flat movements. Now there are evenmore obvious demands for technical virtuosity in a concerto that opens with aformidable first movement, a martial first theme suited to the times andcontrasted with the Romantic lyricism of the second subject. The concertocontinues with a remarkable Adagio in which original colouring is provided bythe use of muted violins in four parts and unmuted viola, while the piano playsa tenderly lyrical role, in finely shaded orchestral writing. The closing rondois a vehicle for visual and aural display, remarkably effective in performance,as Weber well knew.
Weber completed his exciting solo piano work, the Polacca brillante,at his summer residence at Klein-Hosterwitz in August 1819. In the Saxoncountryside he found a refuge from the political difficulties anddisappointments of the German opera in Dresden. The Polacca, subtitledL'hilarite, anticipates the Polonaises of Chopin, and was later transcribed byLiszt for piano and orchestra, with the inclusion of the introduction fromWeber's earlier Grande Polonaise, material that lacks any thematic connectionwith w hat follows. The arrangement is evidence, however, of Liszt's admirationof Weber, with a reflection in the orchestration of that composer's own commandof i