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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long-overdue recognition, 23 Mar 2014
By 
Albion (Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Williamson: Complete Piano Concertos [Piers Lane, Howard Shelley] [Hyperion: CDA68011/2] (Audio CD)
Just as with Malcolm Arnold, whose life shares many parallels with Williamson, here is a composer who has been frequently misjudged simply because he felt that his music actually had to communicate to an audience of listeners rather than hide-bound dogmatists. The previous reviewer has gone into much welcome detail regarding the works and the high-calibre performances which they receive here, so I will merely endorse his assessment of this revelatory release. Many of Williamson's works have their 'tough' or 'challenging' corners, but there is always a corresponding section where the first-time listener can gain his or her bearings: there are beautifully structured works which actually revel in the use of melody (itself a dirty word to many critics from the 1960s through to the 1990s).

We can now view Williamson's output, alongside that of Arnold as almost post-modern in it's eclecticism and celebrate some truly wonderful music. This is certainly a landmark issue from Hyperion and will hopefully lead to more. Especially in urgent need of recording are the large-scale 'Mass of Christ the King' (1975-78), Symphony No.3, 'The Icy Mirror' (1972), the operas 'Our Man in Havana' (1964), 'English Eccentrics' (1964) and 'The Violins of Saint-Jacques' (1966), and the ballets 'The Display' (1963), 'Sun into Darkness' (1966) and 'Perisynthion' (1974). Chandos gave us two exceptional discs of orchestral music but then their project unfortunately stalled. Someone really should take up the cudgel again.

In the meantime, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone interested in Williamson, British or Commonwealth music or the twentieth-century piano concerto.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A major rediscovery, 3 Mar 2014
By 
Master Jacques (London, England, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Williamson: Complete Piano Concertos [Piers Lane, Howard Shelley] [Hyperion: CDA68011/2] (Audio CD)
First off, I must congratulate Hyperion. Yes, they have done it again! Their ability to rescue obscure but worthwhile piano concertos from the vault of time is legendary, but in choosing to record these four by the Anglo-Australian Master of the Queen's Music, Malcolm Williamson - together with his other two, concertante keyboard works - they have excelled themselves. For imaginative choice of worthwhile repertoire, this set will take some beating.

This is also the most important Williamson CD issue since he died, forgotten by nearly everyone, over ten years ago. Most composers go into eclipse after their death, but in his case the eclipse started a generation ago. Well, it is high time the sun came out again. Because this music is simply too good, too individual and life-enhancing, to lie down. And Hyperion's splendid 2-CD set has the sun clearing the shadows at last.

For anyone who hasn't heard any Williamson, these Piano Concertos are a very good way to test the water. Here you'll find his quintessential, highly personal "sweet and sour" mixture of acerbic, driven energy (reminiscent of Prokofiev, Bartok or even Messiaen) with big-hearted, popular Tunes (yes, TUNES!!) He reminds me sometimes of that equally naughty Frenchman, Poulenc. Sometimes of the not-quite so naughty Vaughan Williams. But goodness, he's his own man.

The 1st and 2nd concertos hide real substance under a mask of ebullient, edgy, tongue-in-cheek lightness. Both have marvellously exhilarating toccata-like outer movements, sandwiching romantic slow movements of a distinctive, delicate beauty. The 4th dates from late in his life - amazingly, this is its world premiere! The exuberance of the two early concertos is still there, but the colours are darker, casting a melancholy patina over the high spirits. A ghost has got into the machine. The slow movement is an extraordinary, heartfelt piece of romantic nostalgia like some lost song from a Victorian hymn book. I love this strange, haunting concerto.

The 3rd is on a bigger scale than its siblings, in four not three movements. In depth, colour and scale it reminds me of the Britten Piano Concerto, but Williamson is always a distinctive personality and this is one of his masterpieces. The slow movement, typically, starts from a tiny germ of a thematic scrap which builds little by little to a towering climax of superb power. The 3rd has been recorded before (notably by the composer on Lyrita, also available on CD) but this version will win it many new friends. The 1st and 2nd have also been recorded before, but these Hyperion versions kick the alternatives into touch.

As for the performances: suffice it to say that Piers Lane is on ebullient, virtuoso top form throughout. Occasionally he drives the music a little hard, but the vitality is immense. His fellow pianist Howard Shelley conducts the excellent Tasmanian players with precision and clarity, and the recording (although quite close) is outstandingly clear, even in the dark, orchestral miasmas of the 4th Concerto.

Shelley joins Lane in the more unsmiling, abstract Concerto for Two Pianos, and the set is completed by an excellent reading of the early Sinfonia Concertante, a richly coloured orchestral tapestry where the piano weaves its magic continually, without ever quite 'taking charge' in the manner of the concertos.

Enough said. For me, this is a wondrous, life-enhancing discovery. This music has immense 'chutzpah', and is outrageously full of melodies that you won't be able to get out of your head, whether you want to or not. Excellent performances and recording only enhance the value of an outstanding set. Bravo Hyperion – and bravo Malcolm Williamson!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 30 July 2014
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This review is from: Williamson: Complete Piano Concertos [Piers Lane, Howard Shelley] [Hyperion: CDA68011/2] (Audio CD)
great disc. all Australian, unavailable in Australia
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