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CD Review

The World's First Piano Concertos

  • Johann Christian Bach:
  • Piano Concerto in E Flat Major, Op. 7 #5
  • Piano Concerto in G Major, Op. 7 #6
  • Piano Concerto in D Major, K. 107 (arr. Mozart)
  • Carl Friedrich Abel: Piano Concerto, Op. 11 #2
  • Philip Hayes: Concerto in A Major
  • James Hook: Concerto in D Major, Op. 1 #5
David Owen Norris, piano
Avie AV0014 DDD 79:57
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"The piano concerto was born in London around 1770, inspired by a revolutionary new instrument, so tiny it could only be accompanied by a string trio."

Johannes Zumpe created the square piano in London during the 1760s. David Owen Norris has researched this little known piece of history, and found that the first piano concerto was composed for this new instrument in c.1769 by Philip Hayes, son of the creator of the first purpose-built concert hall, the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, still in use today. The earliest concertos composed for square piano are slight works, diverting but light weight. Small in sound, and characterised by damper levers for the treble and bass halves of the keyboard, the square piano boasts an attractively distinctive halo of resonance created by raising the dampers, one for the top half of the keyboard, the other for the lower strings, and is better heard on the CD of these concertos than recently in concert.

This selection of earliest piano concertos was well recorded at Hatchlands Park, Surrey, using an original Zumpe square piano from the Cobbe Collection of early instruments. It adds a added a wonderful richness to the ensemble, which can be sampled on line at opuscds. David Ownen Norris plays elegantly and with occasional bursts of virtuosity. The recording is excellent, giving just the necessary 10% or so lift to the fragile solo instrument. A worthwhile addition to anyone's collection of keyboard novelties, which will leave you uneasy to listen to J.C. Bach etc again on Steinway pianos.

Copyright © 2004, Peter Grahame Woolf