STEIBELT Piano Concertos Nos 3, 5 & 7
This is the second volume of Hyperion’s Classical Piano Concerto series, one that was launched with Howard Shelley leading the Ulster Orchestra in a delightful disc of Dussek (A/14). For Vol 2 Shelley has turned to Steibelt, learning an awful lot of notes in the process, and it’s difficult to imagine these three concertos receiving more compelling performances. Whether that was time well spent is another matter.
Berlin-born Daniel Steibelt (1765-1823) is best known for two things: challenging Beethoven in a battle of the keyboards (and proving a bad loser when the inevitable happened), and for his L’orage Concerto, in which a pastoral finale is rudely interrupted by a weather front, conjured by dramatic piano tremolos and swirling scales, before blue skies return.
The most convincing moments in these pieces are those that sound Mozartian, though it can’t be said that Steibelt is either a conjurer of memorable melodies or harmonically a deep thinker. In place of musical development it’s down to the soloist to provide amusement through sheer numbers of notes. As Richard Wigmore points out in his splendid notes (a mixture of erudition and quiet wit): ‘As a natural showman, Steibelt seemed to lack confidence writing and playing slow, sustained music.’ The slow movements of the Third and Fifth Concertos are both based on folk tunes, in the case of the latter a set of variations on ‘Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon’; unfortunately all this does is show the limitations of Steibelt’s imagination. The finales come off best – that of the Fifth is a good-humoured chase, the orchestral tally-hos interspersed by dazzling passagework for the soloist.
For the Seventh Concerto, Steibelt demands extravagant forces for the second (final) movement, loading on to his somewhat effete march theme an additional wind-and-brass orchestra as well as a large battery of percussion. It’s rousingly done (though there is an unexpected cut of some 70 bars after the pause – 5'22" into tr 8 – which seems an odd decision) and the disc as a whole is worth hearing for Shelley, but otherwise I’d suggest that Steibelt is a niche interest.