Elmas’ Chopinesque (Sort Of) Piano Concertos

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Stéphan Elmas (1862-1937) was, according the booklet notes accompanying this release, the first Armenian composer of note to write a piano concerto, and although the two works on this disc date from the latter half of the nineteenth century, they could have originated fifty years earlier. Elmas’ model, obviously, was Chopin, but without the tunes. That isn’t to say that Elmas’ melodies are bad. Indeed, that of the Second Concerto’s middle movement is quite lovely, which it had better be given how often we’re going to hear it, and the finales are so Chopinesque that at times the comparison becomes embarrassing.

In short, if you know your Chopin, you’re going to have a pleasant hour or so in store. Sure, the orchestration is rudimentary, and the first movement forms are completely dysfunctional in their excessive reliance on repetitive sequences; but the piano writing glitters under Howard Shelley’s nimble fingers, and the final impression is that of good, clean fun. I wouldn’t recommend hearing both concertos at a sitting–they are too similar for that. Taken individually, though, fans of romantic piano concertos will find plenty to enjoy, aided and abetted by Hyperion’s typically fine engineering.

Elmas, incidentally, had a very unusual life. He went deaf at the turn of the twentieth century, and retired to Geneva where he met and married a painter born without arms (she painted with her feet). The marriage was a happy one, and it helped the sensitive, disabled composer overcome depression in the wake of the Armenian genocide (which his family survived, ultimately joining him in Geneva). To call Elmas even a minor figure would be a gross exaggeration, but who cares? He was plainly serious, sensitive, and a terrific pianist. For many, I suspect that will be enough.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

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  • Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Howard Shelly (cond.)

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