Salieri/Steffan Concertos for Fortepiano

Author: 
Stanley Sadie

Salieri/Steffan Concertos for Fortepiano

  • Concerto for Keyboard and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Keyboard and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Keyboard and Orchestra

The two concertos by Salieri date from 1773, before he went to Vienna, and about the time of Mozart's first true keyboard concerto, K175. They are not masterpieces but they do contain some fresh and attractive ideas, especially the B flat work, which has a central Adagio of considerable charm and tenderness – a piano cantilena, largely in triplets, with sporadic orchestral accompaniment, quite original and poetic and with well-placed expressive climaxes. It is followed by a minuet with a series of eight simple but lively variations (one of them will remind you of Mozart's Rondo alla turca; might Mozart have heard it?). The first movements of both concertos are rather less strong, with insufficient continuity, a tendency to four-square invention and a lot of repetition, though the development section of the B flat does anticipate Mozart's procedures rather interestingly. The C major work is the less accomplished of the two, although its A minor Larghetto, a simple, almost folksy 6/8 movement in which the orchestra play a very modest role, is charming and one might well imagine that it was echoing in Mozart's mind when he wrote the slow movement of his A major Concerto, K488 – where the ideas are, of course, carried to levels of sublimity far beyond Salieri. The pianist here, Andreas Staier, is to my mind an unsure advocate of the music. He has an oddly abrupt manner, often uses an unsuitably ferocious staccato and evidently feels free to play fast and loose (or slow and loose) with the rhythms, generally to destructive effect. And his cadenzas are self-indulgent in scale and style.
Josef Antonin Stepan (1726-97) was a Bohemian composer active in Vienna from the 1740s as pianist, teacher and composer. His music has an appealing individuality of tone, and he often seems to have flouted formal convention. This concerto, dating from the 1780s, starts with a substantial and eloquent slow introduction for the soloist, beginning in a foreign key; the first movement proper is more like an extended sonata with accompaniment than any sort of true concerto, and the invention is quite arresting. The Andante, too, is full of interesting ideas and convoluted lines, if ultimately a shade scrappy, and there is a fairly substantial finale. Again, the work is not a masterpiece but the voice is a distinctive one with something to say. A more disciplined performance from the soloist might have got the music across more sharply, but clearly Staier is in sympathy with Stepan, and the result is well worth listening to. In short, anyone who is interested in the context for Mozart's piano concertos, or simply is curious to hear the Viennese classical language spoken in a strange brogue, ought to try this disc.'

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