on 9 August 2012
This recording of Britten's Piano Concerto is teamed with some rarer works from Britten, Johnson Over Jordan, and music from Paul Bunyan. The Piano Concerto also includes Britten's original 3rd movement (included after the whole of the revised concerto, where it feels a little out of place).
Joanna MacGregor is an excellent soloist, but I feel this recording doesn't let her (or the English Chamber Orchestra under Steuart Bedford) shine: it's oddly muddy-sounding and muffled at low volume, and still isn't very clear at higher volume (and was shown up by a recording of the Britten Violin Concerto which I bought at the same time, which is on Hyperion). This is a fault I've noticed with some other Naxos recordings. I suppose one can't complain too much, given the cheap price of the disc, but that's mostly why I've only given it three stars.
I've given this recording five stars even though, I must confess, that I'm not a big fan of the concerto. The piano concerto was written after the violin concerto. whilst the violin concerto is almost symphonic in tis intesity and concentation the piano concerto is more like a suite of character pieces, notably lacking in drama. It is good to have the previously discarded movement though I can see why Britten dropped it. Both the concertos and Johnson Over Jordan were written within two years of each other but the piano concerto sounds like the work of a much kolder composer than the first two even if it lacks the depth of the violin concerto.
There is plenty of virtuouso piano writing in the outer movements but, inspite of its bright start, this is no showpiece concerto. Joanna MacGregor is superb in what is a fine recording, originally issued under the Collins label. Steuart Bedford is a notable Britten expert so all the performances are top drawer.
Johnson Over Jordan is the big surprise. It's a rarity but has plenty of fine music. This is theatre music with plenty of bite and satire; something we associate with the young Britten. What will particularly catch many ears is the jazz movement - sounding for all the world liek Gershwin. Lasting well over twenty minutes, this suite is no minor trifle and is worth tthe price of the disc alone. Add to that, the enigmatic Piano Concerto in the best performance available; this disc comes highly recommended.