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September/October 2012

Though very different, these concertos have an important similarity-they’re good. Georgy Catoire (1861-1926), descended from a family of French businessmen, was born and died in Moscow. He began as a science student, but his musical ability gained the support of Tchaikovsky. He eventually taught at the University of Moscow, and his most famous student was Dmitri Kabalevsky.
On paper his 1909 concerto looks lopsided, movement I consuming 19 of its 33 minutes. The episodic construction of that movement reduces that impression. Although very much in the grand line of Rachmaninoff concertos, the music rarely sounds Russian. Written a generation earlier than the Sherwood, it’s more advanced harmonically. Catoire uses the piano more as a concertante instrument; as soloist Takenouchi writes, it’s the orchestra that often drives the argument. Though most of the movement is splashy, it ends pensively. II is more coherent, balancing ornament and melody. III begins in an exuberant vein, but grows more tranquil before regaining power. The conclusion recaps the theme from I in a blaze of glory.
Percy Sherwood (1866-1939) had an English father, but came from Dresden, Germany. He was a Felix Draeseke student, and when he himself began teaching, one of his students was the Croatian female composer Dora Pejacevic. Her fine symphony is on CPO (Sept/Oct 2011). Sherwood’s output includes, in addition to the two concertos, five symphonies. He moved to London in 1914, but his work became increasingly out of style and he died there all but forgotten.
His Concerto 2 (1932-33) in the 1930s must have seemed positively atavistic. Takenouchi, I think rightly, observes that such questions don’t bother us now as much as they used to. It’s a more organized, compact work. The unison opening gesture harks back to Rubinstein, preparing an elaborate piano entry. Its development includes plenty of two against three rhythms, and for once the cadenza is musically intelligent, rather than sounding like Czerny finger drills on steroids. It actually contributes to, and drives, the musical narrative. II has a more lyrical, charming theme. III moves along in a fleet 6/8 meter, demanding a light touch. Its construction is so compact that the movement sounds monothematic, even though there is a second theme. The performances are excellent. Takenouchi’s skill and, as important, his belief in the music makes him a convincing advocate. Yates and the RNSO capably abet a worthy enterprise.

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