The Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series fulfills an important cultural function, and the company needs to be commended for giving us recordings, in sound that that is never less than adequate and sometimes much better than that, of material that could slip away from all but academic musicologists and that can give us pleasure even as we recognize that better music becomes canonical for a reason. I believe that we appreciate the better stuff more when we hear it in context of music that is accomplished and worthy of respect without being totally compelling. On this disc, the Sinding comes closer to being compelling. The first movement has well-integrated thematic material, and the piano and orchestra seem to be in a more meaningful relationship than is the case with the first movement of the Alnaes concerto. With Alnaes, the music wanders a bit, with the orchestra making heroic gestures that the piano responds to usually with lyric rippling -- not unpleasant, but there isn't a clear sense of direction. The Alnaes slow movement, characterized in the liner notes as "tragic" seems more darkly sober to me. But the movement has coherence and piano and orchestra contribute to an overall unity of expression. Sinding's first gesture in his slow movement follows from a theme in the first movement and goes on to become a kind of Ballad-like narrative, with a Sibelian tone-poem feel to it. It's very effective and moving, and it ends with a lovely brief cello solo that takes up material that the piano and orchestra have been developing. That ballad-like atmosphere continues into the final movement, where the intensity is ramped up with the tempo and where the pianist has a cadential passage late in the movement that is totally in keeping with the prevailing atmosphere -- so that one comes away from the Sinding concerto with a feeling of its overall development and emotional and musical coherence. The Alnaes third movement is the best, I think, in his concerto, but it has little to do with what has gone before: it's a waltz with, to me, a Spanish flavor, and the orchestra and piano both have fun with it. One leaves the Alnaes concerto feeling that it's more of a suite than a unified piece, but nonetheless pleasant all the same.
Piers Lane plays well, but I wish the engineers could have given him warmer sound. The orchestra too is not ideally recorded, its sound seeming a bit homogenous at times. It could have more presence and detail, along with a warmer image. Not bad sound -- but Hyperion has done better. For all that, though, an interesting issue.