Howard Shelley



In July 2009 Howard Shelley and The London Mozart Players made their fourth visit to the prestigious Rheingau Musik Festival in Wiesbaden giving two concerts to mark the bicentenaries of Mendelssohn and Haydn. Reviews were excellent and one is reproduced below:

"The London Mozart Players, appearing in the Rheingau Music Festival in the Wiesbaden Kurhaus with Howard Shelley, showed what they are made of.
Not a trace of classical smoothness: this Mendelssohn was a rebel showing aggression and strong emotions - a restless ghost par excellence. In Mendelssohn's 1st Piano Concerto in G minor Howard Shelley, combining the roles of soloist and conductor, set a terrific tempo, letting the score blaze out dramatically and the orchestra, right on the ball, reacted with lightning speed to the impassioned momentum. This Mendelssohn indeed lived up to the "con fuoco" demanded in the first movement and in the nimble Vivace-finale Shelley conjured up a sheer fantastical scene of elfin mischief. After that we really did need as encore a "Song without Words" to lower the pulse rate again.
The London Mozart Players demonstrated how intimate they are with the music of Haydn when they played two of his "London" Symphonies, one either side of the Mendelssohn Concerto. The concert opened with the 5th London Symphony in C in which the orchestra were able, however much vivacity was demanded, to bring out also the tender elegance and dignity. But the thing which made their playing so thrilling was the trenchant way they dealt with Haydn's humour, his over-subtleties, the little moments he includes when he deliberately sets out to confuse and to keep leading the audience astray on to black ice.
For classical music in Haydn's case means playing a game with the expectations of the spoilt public, time and again producing new surprises to keep it happy. This is just what happens in the 9th London Symphony, nicknamed "The Clock". Shelley and the London Mozart Players intensified the "tick tock" motif in the Andante movement from its very quiet beginnings to a menacing rumble of thunder, and the tempestuous final movement could only be topped by Mozart's "Figaro" Overture played as an effervescent encore. An exciting evening which once again confirmed Haydn's genius, so often underestimated."

Frankfurter Neue Presse / 27 July 2009


In January 2005 Shelley conducted a televised concert with the Orchestra della Radio Televisione Svizzera Italiana in Lugano of Vaughan Williams Symphony No 2 'London' and one of Haydn's 'London' symphonies, No 96 'The Miracle'.


"The third concert in the series Haydn & British Composers produced by Network Two of Radio Svizzera Italiana, given the other evening in the Auditorium RSI at Lugano, brought to the stage the splendid Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana under the meticulous direction of Howard Shelley.
    The two works by Haydn made enjoyable listening. The Overture to an English Opera (also known as Covent Garden Overture) was initially written as the introduction to an Italian opera. After a brief opening passage, slow and sombre in character, the main part of the work, the Presto in C major, leapt joyously to life, the festive atmosphere enhanced by the inclusion of trombones and timpani, as was the custom in the 18th century.
    The not-so-widely known Symphony n.96 in D major ("The Miracle") is among the most distinguished of Haydn's mature period. It is admired above all for its structure and varied tonal range, which give rise to a distinctive sound. Howard Shelley conducted with conviction, giving us a performance of high calibre which brought out all the colour and expressive nuance of the writing.
    The evening finished with the ambitious Symphony No 2 of Vaughan Williams, very closely related in style to the symphonic tone poem, with thematic influences attributable to Dvorak and Debussy. Howard Shelley's reading was warm and meaningful, intense and analytical. Under his secure and penetrating conducting, the orchestra was able to play at its best."

La Provincia / 24 January 2005


In October 2004, following the success of his previous collaboration with Camerata Salzburg, Shelley designed a second series of concerts for Symphony Hall Birmingham around Mozart piano concertos and Schubert symphonies, "The Young Immortals". The concerts in Salzburg and Birmingham were a triumph:

Salzburg: Camerata with Howard Shelley
A Real Pleasure

When they first performed together a few years ago, one thing was immediately obvious: the Camerata Salzburg with Howard Shelley is a splendid musical constellation. The "chemistry" is simply right. And this could once again be experienced in the most beautiful way at the opening concert of the Camerata's season in the Mozarteum.
    What distinguishes Howard Shelley is that he discreetly and prudently understands how to create a very natural atmosphere for musical enjoyment. The pleasure that the Camerata musicians have with him is written on their faces and can be heard in the music.
    Franz Schubert's Symphony Nr. 3 rang out with the necessary lively and propelling lightness without ever being superficial.
    Mozart's G-major Piano Concerto, played and conducted by Shelley, was persuasive in its clear colouring and lucid agility.
    In the final work, Schubert's 4th Symphony, all the weight of destiny and great longing was clearly emphasised without the Camerata or Shelley ever lapsing into inappropriate bombast.
    Yes certainly, a feast of a concert!

Kronen Zeitung Salzburg, 26.10.04

Mozarteum: Howard Shelley as Soloist and Conductor with the Camerata
Union of trust

On Friday the Camerata was playing in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum, while at the same time the Mozarteum orchestra was performing in the Festspielhaus. The exciting question in the run-up to this evening was whether the two orchestras would take each other's audience? And the happy answer showed that the Salzburgers love their culture, as both concerts were virtually sold out.
    The Camerata Salzburg was once again conducted by Howard Shelley. The evening's programme chiefly familiarised the audience with Schubert's early Symphonies, in which the influences of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are clearly audible. Occasionally in the Symphony Nr. 3 in D major and the Symphony Nr. 4 in C minor - which, in possible homage to Beethoven, carries the title "Tragic" - there already emerges the unmistakeable voice of Franz Schubert. If, however, one were to hear just a couple of bars taken from these early works on the radio, the average listener would not immediately guess they were by Schubert.
    Shelley guided the orchestra securely at all times and shaped the individual themes with supple sophistication. Mozart's Piano Concerto in G nestled between the two Symphonies and Shelley, whose musical life began as a pianist, both conducted and played the solo part flawlessly, without any sign, visible or audible, of the double burden he was carrying. The audience was completely carried away by the sound of Shelley's gripping interpretation and the concentrated playing of the orchestral musicians. Thunderous applause!

Salzburger Volkszeitung, 25.10.2004


A weekend of some of the most inspired music-making we are ever likely to encounter.
    Mozart's A major Piano Concerto, written for an audience of conoisseurs, requires the utmost delicacy of texture and Shelley and the responsive Camerata brought this delightful work deliciously to life.
    All its wit was subtly understated, the lithe orchestra purred like a cat ready to spring, and Shelley himself performed with all the intimacy of a Mozart piano sonata, articulation delightfully crisp, chording in the slow movement almost hymn-like.
    Both here and in a genuinely tender account of Mozart's last piano concerto, the B-flat K595, we had heartwarming evidence of the empathy between Howard Shelley and his well-rehearsed players, responsibly led by the impressive Nathalie Chee.
    And those pianists among us must have despaired at how easily Shelley's technique served this inexhaustible composer's expressive needs.
    Most exciting of all was a performance of Mozart's concert aria Ch'io mi scordi di te,written for the soprano Nancy Storace and Mozart himself directing from the piano.
    There was a wonderful intertwining here between the voice of the hugely exciting Signe Asumussen and Shelley's piano, supported by a complicit orchestra.
    Asmussen displayed a remarkable control over range and tessitura in Saturday afternoon's group of Schubert songs, some of them rarely-performed ones with instrumental obbligati.
    Shelley presided over a charming but untrivialised Trout Quintet, combining lyricism and rigour in the same way as he had when conducting Schubert's Third Symphony."

Birmingham Post / 1 Nov 2004

In this and recent seasons Howard Shelley is performing largely in the dual role of conductor & pianist and is highly sought after for his interpretations of Mozart and the classical repertoire.


In February 2002 Shelley and the Camerata Salzburg presented at Birmingham's Symphony Hall three consecutive evening concerts each featuring two of the Mozart piano concertos and one of the Haydn 'Paris' symphonies written in the three years 1784-1786. In two daytime concerts Shelley and members of the Camerata Salzburg also performed chamber music written by Mozart in the same three year period.

"Beautifully balanced accounts of Mozart's Piano Concertos 19 to 24, with Shelley directing from the keyboard, savoured their unsurpassed variety of mood and profusion of melody. A dynamic reading of the D minor K466 captured perfectly the passions seething under the surface of the opening allegro. The sublime Concerto in C K467, was crowned by the painfully beautiful central andante - poised, with enough momentum to avoid an overly romantic effect, it held the audience spellbound. The intimate K488 and symphonic K491 formed a natural culmination of achievement for both composer and interpreters - the rapturous applause at the end of the mighty C minor concerto's titanic concluding variations was fully merited"
Independent 28 Feb 2002
for full review click here

"Shelley is also a soloist who has something to say with that accompaniment. His shaping of phrases, his attention to balance within and between the instrumental groups, was as pertinent in the Mozart as it was in the purely orchestral symphonies of Haydn. A concentrated but rewarding weekend."
Telegraph 18 Feb 2002
for full review click here

Mainly Mozart with the Seattle Symphony as conductor & soloist
"Howard Shelley who led the orchestra in spirited and highly subtle performances while he played two Mozart piano concertos with a relaxed elegance and an ear-opening delicacy. Shelley is a formidable and much-recorded Mozartean, but he is so much more."
Seattle Times, May 5 2001

Camerata Salzburg
"Howard Shelley pflegt eine knappe, höchst effektive dirigentische Gestik, die aber die grossen Linien stets plastisch präsent hält. Und et lässt genügend Raum für einen gemeinsamen und vor allem frei wachsenden Atem. ...In Mozart’s c-Moll Konzert führte Shelley am Klavier vor, wie mit Eleganz, Leichtigkeit und Tiefe selbst verborgene Facetten blühend aufzufächern sind."
Salzburger Krone
(Howard Shelley nurtures a concise, highly effective conducting technique which always gives the long lines flexibility and life. He also leaves plenty of room for the development of collective and above-all natural expressiveness... Shelley, directing from the piano, showed how with elegance, lightness and depth, even hidden details can be revealed and brought to life.)

Lucerne Festival with BBC Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Davis
"Damit stimmten sie nahtlos mit dem Solisten Howard Shelley überin, der durch eine klassisch ausgewogene, mit feinsten Schattierungen angereicherte Interpretation voller Noblesse, Beseelung und Anmut für sich einhahm."
Der Bund, 10 Sept 1998
(The orchestra blended perfectly with the soloist Howard Shelley, whose noble, graceful and inspired interpretation was full of classical equilibrium and enriched with subtle shading.)

Philharmonia / Kurt Sanderling / Royal Festival Hall
"His playing was impassioned as well as poised, and the vehement grandeur of his playing never toppled over into rhetoric."


Shelley’s recordings of Mozart have consistently received the highest praise:

One of the most delightful and rewarding Mozart recordings we have had from any source... a modern counterpart to Solomon’s 1955 deeply satisfying recording
Hi-FI News / Feb 92

"Shelley is a superb musician: not only does he play with great taste and insight but his conducting is impeccable... the sound is beguiling and the record can be recommended without reservation."
BBC Music Magazine / June 93

"A beautiful recording in every respect.. There is a new found serenity, spirituality and regality about the music making on this disc which cries out to be discovered by all... Shelley’s Mozart cycle is building towards something special, and no lover of the concertos can afford to ignore this latest issue."
CD Review / June 93

"I know that Perahia’s Mozart with the ECO is regarded by some as nonpareil, but for me Shelley is keener still."
Hi-Fi News / May 94

"Howard Shelley has an unerring feeling for Mozart. He combines the requisite brilliance with grace and sensitivity in the early work, while capturing the drama and sweep of the later masterpiece"
American Record Guide / May-June 95

"My regard for Howard Shelley’s ongoing Mozart piano concerto series on Chandos increases with each successive release in what is rapidly evolving into one of the most accomplished and illuminating contemporary traversals of the cycle .
He is an artist of electric vitality and cultured exuberance. The beauty of Shelley’s Mozart playing is not so much that its fundamental correctness can be taken wholly for granted, but rather that it transforms those virtues of sincerity and textual integrity into a joyously compelling listening experience."

Fanfare, USA / May-June 96


There is a wealth of forgotten piano concertos written in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The composers, though succesful and popular in their times, suffered eclipse from the giant shadows of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn etc. Concertos by HUMMEL, MOSCHELES and CRAMER are fine and attractive works and combine well with Mozart.

Hummel performed with Zurich Chamber Orchestra
"Seine Virtuosität hat nichts Auftrumpfendes; sie kommt mit der grössten Selbstverständlichkeit daher und ist von einer unwahrscheinlichen Geschlifftenhiet und Noblesse. Dazu kommt ein wacher Sinn für Wechselwirkungen mit dem Orchester, was die Begegnung mit dem selten gespielten Werk zu einen anregenden Erlebnis werden liess."
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
(His virtuosity is not ostentatious; it comes across with the greatest naturalness and is characterised by extraordinary polish and nobility. That, along with an alert awareness of the interplay with the orchestra, made the performance of this seldom-played work an inspiring experience.)


"This disc is one of Howard Shelley’s finest, directing the London Mozart Players from the keyboard in buoyant, stylish fashion while tossing off the many pages of brilliant passagework with a flair and assurance that compels admiration."
Classic CD / Christmas 97

"As Shelley proved on his first Hummel disc, he is outstanding in this music, synthesising the classical and romantic elements perfectly. A natural Mozartian, he allies his poise and clarity to a fearless technique, and absorbs Hummel’s most ostentatious demands into the musical fabric, giving the decorative solo part the necessary grace and piquancy."
Gramophone / April 99

"Howard Shelley proves a supremely eloquent advocate of the composer, with his refined, shapely phrasing, crystalline textures and aristocratic command of the glittering keyboard pyrotechnics."
BBC Music Magazine June 2001

"Anyone who already has Howard Shelley’s earlier Hummel recordings (there are two previous discs of piano concertos and a marvellous solo recital) will want this latest instalment. You won’t be disappointed. Howard Shelley brings to life all the charm and effervescent brio of this glittering music... Whether in passages of rhetorical power, heavily embroidered lyricism or dazzling acrobatics, his playing is superb. ... In short, this disc is a treat from first note to last and comes strongly recommended."
International Record Review / July-August 2001


"Howard Shelley’s disc of Hummel solo piano works is delightfully stylish and is by some distance the finest solo Hummel recital available."
Gramophone Critics Choice January 2001

"Here, surely, is the Hummel disc we’ve been waiting for. ... Feast yourself on playing of rare quality, superb musicianship and pianistic finish, captured in wonderfully clear and warm sound."
International Record Review May 2000


Over his career Shelley has performed a huge variety of repertoire and had concertos written for him. Here are just two examples:

"Anyone who can shape Rachmaninov with Shelley’s instinctive feeling for those subtle internal rubatos has to be a natural for Gershwin. And he is. His Rhapsody in Blue is all urban chic and sophistication, born of the concert-hall but mindful of the jazz club. The manner is free and easy, laid back but ready and eager to party."

"Shelley offers the most liquid eloquence and penetrating insight in the face of the most formidable technical demands. The myriad torrent of semiquavers never dissolve into mechanical rigidity and in the tonal variety of muscular energy contrasted with rarefied ecstasy he uncannily insinuates late Scriabin as a significant progenitor of Tippett’s keyboard style."
International Piano Magazine


However, no overview of Shelley would be complete without some reference to the reputation he has achieved as an acclaimed interpreter of the music of Rachmaninov.
In 1983 he performed the complete solo piano music of Rachmaninov at the Wigmore Hall, broadcast in entirety by BBC Radio 3. He subsequently recorded the works in nine volumes for Hyperion Records. During the 89/90 season he performed the complete cycle of Rachmaninov's four concertos and Paganini Rhapsody with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Bryden Thomson and recorded the same for Chandos Records. He has performed Rachmaninov's concertos with many of the world's great orchestras. He has also recorded, with four exceptional singers, the composer's complete song cycle.

In March 2006 the major French magazine 'Classica-Repertoire' published a six-page article in which they compared the 70-plus recordings of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto that are currently available, including Horowitz, Argerich and Ashkenazy. Their top critics unanimously chose Howard Shelley as the winner, saying:
"the playing of Howard Shelley alone combines all the qualities that we would hope to hear in this score"
"…convinced by the precision of his timing, the rhapsodic quality of his playing. In the Intermezzo the impression of dignity prevails: each phrase shaped and matured in a blend of passion and restraint. The Finale is almost choreographed… having a magisterial serenity, as much from orchestra as soloist. These musicians inhabit the music, transcending its turbulent and complex emotions."

"L'interprétatillon de Howard Shelley re├žoit tous les éloges et sort victorieuse. Nous sommes unanimement convaincus "par la justesse de la pulsation, l'aspect rhapsodique du piano". Dans L'Intermezzo qui recueille quatre fois la note maximale, chaque phrase semble mûrie, vécue avec un mélange de passion et de pudeur. "L'impression de dignité domine". Le finale est "presque chorégraphié, "d'une sérénité magistrale autant pour l'orchestre que pour le soloiste" "Ces musiciens vivent leur partition et en transcendent le trouble sensible" [.] Le Piano d'Howard Shelley synthétise à lui seul les qualités que nous espérons entendre dans cette partition." Classica-Répertoire mars 2006

Below is a selection of reviews from his performances of the music of Rachmaninov:

"Since performing - and subsequently recording - the complete piano works of Rachmaninov as far back as 1983, Howard Shelley has emerged as one of the world’s most impressive exponents of the master’s keyboard compositions.
He was in superb form in Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, producing an interpretation I cannot recall being equalled since hearing it played by Julius Katchen in the early 1960s.
Meticulous musicianship, infallible fingers and tone that ranged from roaring deep-bass octaves to fragile, rapid treble traceries, enabled Shelley to evoke unerringly the emotional essence of each variation.
The sizzling temperature at which the more impassioned variations were played was a fine foil to the rhapsody’s more lyrical musings.
How rarely it occurs that a concerto soloist is so entirely attuned to the requirements of the score - and with a keyboard technique beyond reproach - that the reviewer is placed in the unusually agreeable position of needing only to salute artistry of Olympian excellence... Pianism of this calibre is rarely encountered."

The West Australian

"Howard Shelley’s interpretation was simply magnificent. With nothing overdone and never a note out of place, he managed to convey the varying moods of the work from the diabolical to the love-lorn in superb style and with graceful conviction."
Hong Kong TV & E Times

"Dazzling, but controlled, virtuosity was as much a mark of this excellent reading as the great emotional depth and richness of Shelley’s playing"
Daily Telegraph

"Mr Shelley is an accomplished and perceptive Rachmaninov specialist, thoroughly in command of the powerful and virile as well as the tenderly romantic, the melancholy and introspective facets of his musical nature."
Daily Telegraph

"Howard Shelley gives dazzling, consistently compelling performances full of virtuoso flair."
New Penguin Record & Cassette Guide

"Here is Rachmaninov playing of enormous stylistic panache."
Hi-Fi News

"These masterly performances can, I think, lay claim to being the finest, certainly the most individual, that we have yet heard on disc. (Yes, including the Ashkenazy set)."
Hi-Fi News (Edward Seckerson)

"Howard Shelley’s performances of all these works are of a supreme stylistic assurance and technical fluency... you may well wonder when you last heard playing of such nonchalant distinction."
Music & Musicians (Bryce Morrison)

"Shelley is utterly steeped in the Rachmaninov idiom. No histrionics; just sensitive and sincere playing guided by the natural contours of the music. The "Paganini Rhapsody" bristles with life and the playing responds readily to Rachmaninov’s fertile imagination. Shelley and Rachmaninov are ideal partners."
Weekend Telegraph

"Globalement, cette integrale est donc l’un des plus belles disponibles à ce jour, avec à son sommet un 2e Concerto d’une noblesse rare pour une partition si souvent galvaudée et un 3e qui sait allier une grandeur presque religieuse et une élégance virtuose sans jamais sombrer dans la lourdeur."
Diapason (awarded a Diapason d’Or)
(All in all, this complete set is one of the finest available today, with, as its crown, a 2nd Concerto of rare nobility for a score so often dishonoured and a 3rd which combines an almost religious grandeur and a virtuosic elegance.)

"Where others sound strenuous and hard-pressed Shelley is fluent and urbane, a true keyboard artistocrat free to concentrate on the elusive poetry that lies at the heard of so much fiery pianistic intricacy."

"one of the finest examples I know of a truly flawless pianistic mechanism at the service of a musician who has few rivals for his sensitivity, elegance and complete identification with Rachmaninoff’s idomatic style."
American Record Guide

Caroline Baird Artists is a full member of the International Artist Managers' Association