|1. Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra|
|2. Improvisations on a theme by Constant Lambert|
|3. Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra|
To be completely honest, it seems to me that the solo work, orchestral work and (particularly) recorded quality are only just borderline -5*. Nevertheless it also seems to me to be rank ingratitude to all concerned, particularly including Naxos, not to do any little I can to support the venture by first buying the record and second giving it the best rating I can. Whether it counts as a 'curiosity corner' or not, there is some very interesting and attractive music here.... Read more ›
The First Concerto, composed the same year as the Symphonic Studies, is a total joy. I'm a goner for composers with wit, and in this piece Rawsthorne displays it in his thematic material, orchestration and rhythms: a 20th-century Haydn. In fact, the piece is the epitome of a neo-classic divertimento. The three movements are Capriccio, Chaconne and Tarantella. The terms 'capriccio' and 'tarantella' certain imply a light-heartedness, and they don't disappoint on that score. The Chaconne is based on a wry ground bass and although it's a slow movement - andante con moto - it, too, gets in some witticisms. Peter Donohoe, one of Britain's finest pianists, is superb throughout, both here and in the Second Concerto. And he is given sensitive support by the fine Ulster Orchestra under Takuo Yuasa.
The second piece on the disc is a set of variations (or 'Improvisations') on a theme by Rawsthorne's friend, Constant Lambert (another of those high-ranked second-tier composers I mentioned). Rawsthorne had helped orchestrate Lambert's ballet, 'Tiresias,' after his too-early death in 1951, and he became infatuated with the quasi-serial opening theme of that piece. (Don't worry, even though there are some occasional dodecaphonic devices used in the 'Improvisations,' one would never know it without studying the score, or reading the enclosed booklet.) The piece is, again, witty, strikingly orchestrated, charming and attractive. I've been returning to it for several weeks now and it does not pall.
Finally, the Second Concerto (also from 1951, and written for the Festival of Britain which had spawned a good deal of worthy music such as Benjamin Frankel's lovely violin concerto recorded not long ago on the cpo label) is a four-movement work. Movement I is an affable Moderato, II a vigorous, sometimes violent Scherzo with lots of pianistic glitter, III a melancholy, almost regretful, Intermezzo marked Adagio semplice with a lighter middle section, and IV a rumbustious Allegro with jazzy rhythms and harmonies as well as Prokofievan harmonic side-slips. The whole thing is a showpiece for both piano and orchestra. In this recording one can almost see the musicians grinning at each other, particularly in the hellbent-for-leather last movement.
Bring on some more Rawthorne, Naxos! And keep the British piano concerti coming, too! Off the top of my head I would nominate consideration for those of Rubbra, Britten, Ireland, Foulds, Delius, Alwyn and Tippett. How about it?
A hearty recommendation for this release.
Review by Scott Morrison
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