The Concerto for Piano and Nine Instruments (1931) is fascinating work, clearly influenced by jazz and jazz improvisation (Lambert knew and admired Duke Ellington), but is still very much a composed concert work. It has rapidly shifting and unusual time signatures, strange combinations of chamber instruments, such as the long cello and woodwind “choir” passage at the start of the second movement, and a rich harmonic language that goes close to breaking tonality but doesn’t quite get there. The third movement gets the closest to a conventional piano blues theme. The scoring is a kind of hybrid between a jazz band and the Pierrot Lunaire ensemble. And the mood is savagely bleak. It was written not long after the suicide of Lambert’s close friend Peter Warlock, and there are several musical references to Warlock’s song cycle The Curlew.
David Owen Norris has said that “Of all the classical composers that loved jazz Lambert was the one that best understood it...anyone who is interested in taking elements of popular music to the concert hall needs to study Lambert, because Lambert was better at it than anybody else”.