The surprise classical hit of the year

The surprise classical hit of the year


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2016

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

If there was an award for surprise of the year, this unpretentious release would win both the jury and the public vote. (NN) born 1814, was written off by music history as an also-ran, one of those stern faces in the back row of romantic group portraits, somewhere behind Chopin and Liszt.

Read on here and here.


And here.


  • John Borstlap says:

    It seems to me that the problem with this music, in spite of its polish and craft, is that patterns are set-up of which the expectations are then fulfilled without any surprise of the unexpected invention, falling into the root position of the key as soon as it can. It is like Schumann’s weaker pieces in this respect:

    He even tried his hand on a piano concerto:

    … which is full to the brim with clichées and without intensity of expression, however the performers try. You can understand why Rachmaninoff admired him so much, because R would often fall back upon similar well-crafted but uninteresting sentimentality.

    But that does not mean that issuing recordings of such composers is not worthwhile, they offer enough musical pleasure and also, filling-out the background against which their betters stand-out.

  • Respect says:
    Rachmaninoff’s wonderful Henselt.

  • Respect says:

    Rachmaninov (corrected link)

    I was taught a few of these etudes as a student, lovely and effective pieces, I was under the impression that a few generations back, most great pianists played them.

  • Mark Rowe says:

    Isn’t Henselt in the middle of the sitting group, with Chopin standing behind him third from the left?

  • Scott says:

    You can find a recording of the concerto at

  • Robert Holmén says:

    You’d never have to commission a disappointing modern piece for something new to play if you just started mining the numerous wonderful but forgotten past composers.

    • Vienna calling says:

      So true, we could still be listening to the drums in the trees of the neighbouring village if nobody had ever wanted something new.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        I would say that the modern practice of commissioning new pieces from composers who have already demonstrated that they write terrible music is an unpromising one.

        The aim should be to present good music, not merely that it be new.

        I’m also going to say that playing drums in trees was never a thing.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      You’re right that there are lots of good forgotten good music that did not enter the ’canon’. However, there are also lots of awful music waiting for being ‘re-discovered’ (and just now I think about several Baroque composers that have been exhumed by the H.I.P. movement), and there should always be place for new music.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Also agreed. Digging-up completely forgotten baroque composers often results in more or less chique boredom dressed-up as ‘discoveries’ (like the endlessly boring concerti grossi by Joachim Alzheimer).

  • william osborne says:

    Another very worthy but forgotten composer is Jan Křtitel Václav Kalivoda. Historically he forms a bridge between Beethoven and Schumann. His music is excellent in my view approaches the quality of Beethoven’s and Schumann’s. Take a listen to his 6th Symphony and see for yourself. He was the conductor at the court of Prince Karl Egon II in Donaueschingen (where the Danube begins in the Black Forest.) I hope his music will return to the repertoire. It would be a gain for all of us.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But this piece uses its material in so obvious ways, what you would expect happens just so. It sounds quite clumsy to me (that dreadful introduction…), there is a cumbersome plodding-on from obvious thing to the next obvious thing, no built-in surprises or free invention. Or maybe it is the performance, taking things much too slowly? But even then, the themes are not very ‘speaking’. I could not listen it out, it sounds like a student’s work in some contemporary Hochschule writing the obliged exam piece in the old style to demonstrate his/her knowledge of old harmony and counterpoint.

  • V.Lind says:

    In what respect is this a “hit”? High sales? Masses of good reviews in creditable organs?

    On info presented, it may be a bit of a “find.” But I don’t see “hit” in a world where 200 sales in a week constitutes the best that can be achieved.

  • Sneakeater says:

    The piano concerto has been recorded by Marc-Andre Hamelin. If he’s not a “major artist”, I don’t know who is.

    Also, Piers Lane has a recital of Henselt solo pieces on disc. Also pretty “major”.