Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Howard Shelley (conductor/ piano)
TPT: 65’ 10”
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Henri Herz is not a great composer: his lack of depth rules him out of contention. But – and it is a big but – he is a first rate craftsman. Notwithstanding ideas and their development which incline towards the superficial, Herz’s concertos are put together with real skill. He makes no pretensions to profundity. Pleasant entertainment is his goal – and in that role he is impressive. And when a pianist and conductor like Howard Shelley takes it on, he succeeds in investing even the most trivial succession of notes with such fluency and charm, that even the fussiest commentator would surely have to concede that what Herz lacks in depth, he makes up for in pleasing melody and attractive sound colours.
Offered with great elan by the soloist and a Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra very much on its collective toes – and skilled sound engineers to boot – the result is beguiling: music ideal to relax to after a tough day at the office.
Throughout, TSO strings are in top form, particularly in the introduction to the central andantino movement of Herz’s concerto. And in the finale which comes across as a delicious folksy dance, both soloist and orchestra are in fine fettle.
Listen carefully to Shelley’s playing: it’s a joy. The fluent finesse with which he marshals streams of notes is impeccable – and, style-wise, Shelley never puts a foot – or finger – wrong. In a special sense, Shelley is a conjuror, taking often ho-hum material and making it consistently appealing.
Immaculately spun trills and splendid ensemble make of Herz’s Grande Polonaise Brillante opus 50 a memorable listening experience – so much so that at least for the duration of the piece, it sounds significantly better than it in fact is – and that is a hallmark of persuasive artistry. Listening to Herz’s Fantaisie et variations sur la marche d’Otello de Rossini is the sonic equivalent of placing a best-quality bonbon on the tongue. Its pleasures are brief but they linger in the imagination.
In the other two stand-alone works, the content is, again, mostly froth and bubble – but presented with disarming control and a sense of what works well in musical terms.
This recording underscores yet again that Shelley and the TSO have a marriage made in musical heaven.