Henri Herz (1803-1888) was one of the flashier piano virtuosi of his time. As was the fashion, he wrote his own music to showcase his talents, producing what Harold Schonberg slated as "empty, graceful salon pieces" that, somehow, still managed to be "consistent best-sellers".

The latest instalment of The Romantic Piano Concerto series offers Herz's works for piano and orchestra, elegantly delivered by Howard Shelley with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

Don't expect Chopin's sophisticated soul or Liszt's theatrical dash here, in music suggesting that all that glitters may not even be gilt.

Yet only the severe of heart could resist the sweet charms of the Andantino from Herz's Second Concerto, so lovingly dispensed by Shelley, its pretty tune-spinning afloat on wafting strings.


The real guilty pleasures here lie in Herz's three shorter pieces, the most irresistible being a Grande Fantaisie Militaire sur La Fille du Regiment.

Donizetti's opera inspires a delicious and sometimes preposterous concoction; swooning serenades and scampering dances are introduced and punctuated by tongue-in-cheek militaristic campery.

Many will be happy to encounter pianist Alissa Firsova on her debut recital disc, Russian Emigres.

Firsova has undertaken "family projects" before, sharing the writing of a string quartet with her mother and father. All three are on this recording as composers, offering their own "emigre" voices alongside that of Sergei Rachmaninov, the iconic Russian exile.

The strongest work is Dmitri Smirnov's Blake Sonata, which exudes a certain brute power, thanks to his daughter's stirring advocacy, especially when its second movement rhapsodises around the English poet's stalking tiger, burning bright in the forests of the night.

However, Elena Firsova's For Alissa comes across as a moody improv in the shadow of Scriabin and Alissa Firsova's trill-laden Lune Rouge is also rather unenterprising in its musical language.

Rachmaninov saves the day, with the brave and blistering account of his 1913 Second Sonata, in its original version.

Later in the disc, his Variations on a theme of Corelli is beautifully sustained through its 19 minutes, effortlessly working through the passing storms that separate its lingering Intermezzo from the conciliatory Nocturne of its coda.

Verdict: Pianists fossick through forgotten frivolities of the past and foster family connections.

Herz: Piano Concerto no 2
(Hyperion, through Ode Records)

Alissa Firsova: Russian Emigres

(Vivat, through Southbound)