Home listening: Von Bronsart, Urspruch, Liszt and out-of-this world Holst

Hyperion showcases two lesser lights and hits a Liszt century, while Brian Cox illuminates The Planets

• The Hyperion label continues its Romantic piano concerto series with works by two composers who can hardly be described as household names: by Hans August Alexander Bronsart von Schellendorf (or just plain Hans von Bronsart) and Anton Urspruch. No, me neither, but don’t be put off; these are really interesting pieces. Liszt thought so highly of his pupil Bronsart that he dedicated his second piano concerto to him, and while Bronsart’s impressively grandiose F sharp minor concerto of 1873 displays many Lisztian flourishes, it’s very distinctively his own. He wrote it for his wife Ingeborg Starck, for whom, incidentally, Wagner harboured a passion. She must have been quite a pianist, as this stentorian concerto makes huge demands on the soloist, particularly in the spectacularly fiery and exciting finale.

Urspruch, another pupil of Liszt in Weimar, took a very different approach, keeping his soloist constantly busy, scampering around the keyboard in the bucolic first movement of his concerto in E flat major, not least in an elaborate, extended cadenza, and in a spirited, dancing finale, which develops around a series of spectacular, mercurial variations. Bringing these pieces so vividly to life are pianist Emmanuel Despax with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Tzigane.

• In 2011, Hyperion released a mammoth box set to mark Liszt’s bicentenary – 99 discs, all recorded over 14 years by the indefatigable Leslie Howard. Now comes New Discoveries (Vol 4), which the label claims constitutes the 100th CD in their Liszt project. Some are teenage scraps, some are substantial works, such as the vast Magyar Rapszódiák No 23. It’s something of a bag of bits, but wonderfully illuminating nonetheless.

• Over on Radio 3 iPlayer there is still time to catch Professor Brian Cox’s fascinating insights into Holst’s The Planets, performed live with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Cox makes us listen to this familiar music with fresh ears in the context of our new understanding of the solar system; for example, to him Mars is not the Bringer of War but the Bringer of Hope. It’s dazzling stuff.

Professor Brian Cox presenting Holst’s The Planets at the Barbican, September 2018
Professor Brian Cox presenting Holst’s The Planets at the Barbican, September 2018 Photograph: Mark Allan

Contributor

Stephen Pritchard

The GuardianTramp

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