At last, in volume 38, the cycle of Scharwenka concertos is completed - and while it might not be quite on the level of the fourth, the first concerto is still a splendid piece. It is - perhaps somewhat surprisingly - coupled with the (perhaps) best of Anton Rubinstein's five concertos, another memorable and inventive work from this composer, who had a knack for bold, strong melodies that remain throughout on just the right side of banality, giving rise to rather appealing and enjoyable wholes.
The appealing Scharwenka concerto is at its best in the fiery, more brilliant parts (the slow movement and the slower music of the first movement is, to be honest, sometimes a little meandering), but the whole thing adds up to a rather compelling whole. The Rubinstein makes a strong impression already with the purposeful, fierce first entry of the piano in the first movement, and manages to keep the interest up, even though it soon turns to more lyrical material. Rubinstein writes with a clear grasp of the longer lines, and is of course an expert piano writer, developing solo lines of various colors intertwining and blending into each other while never compromising the forward flow of the work. The slow movement is poetic, but centered around a darkly turbulent heart, and the last movement is a delightfully enjoyable tour-de-force of pianistic splendour (even though the stylistic gap is rather wide, you often get the uncanny feeling that Rachmaninov must have known this work rather well).
Hamelin does not disappoint; playing with an almost scary accuracy, yet bring more life and power and feeling into the music than one could hope for, tackling the rather challenging passages thrown at him not only with glittering brilliance, but panache - and always drawing focus to the music rather than the playing. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Michael Stern is impeccable as well, and the sound quality is excellent as always - strongly recommended.