Walter Piston, quite unjustifiably, has a reputation for dryness and academicism.
He shares this reputation with Peter Mennin and it casts a quite unjustified
slur on his romantically-inclined music. In the two concertos on this disc
Piston's standing as an accessible and enduringly sinewy romantic is well
and truly affirmed.
The first concerto was written for Ruth Poselt who premiered the work in
1940. It has been recorded before (though not on CD) by Hugo Kolberg with
the Berlin SO conducted by Otto Mazerath (Mace LP MXX9089).
The concerto is absolutely splendid - modelled on the Tchaikovsky but having
more than a few reference points with the Walton and the Barber. Michael
Tippett's ecstatic string hymns from Concert for Double String Orchestra
also seem to have touched this music which rises to a fine ecstasy at
5.03 in the first movement. This work has the sheer punch of the same composer's
second symphony (try the Tilson Thomas/Boston recording for best effect)
and the hurtling finale effervesces, darts and skims in circus stamping bravado.
The 15 minute Fantasia is a late work - drier, dissonant and challenging
though not without a certain hard-won rhapsodic Bergian lyricism.
Less challenging is the 1960 second violin concerto (written as a Ford foundation
commission for Joseph Fuchs) - rather like a time-filtered version of the
Barber violin concerto. Melody is still important but it is tough
although well worth the struggle. The second movement is a lean adagio
- a reflective, sustained and whisper-quiet prayer. The finale flings notes
around the aural landscape, flashes, flickers and hammers with compulsive
Buswell (last heard as soloist in Previn's recording of the Vaughan Williams
violin concerto on RCA in the late 60s) is superb and characterful throughout.
Not a hint of the '3-piece suit commission' about this performance or any
of this music.
A great disc of rare music and at any price unmissable but this is at bargain
price! Excellent recording quality, by the way, and the usual good background
notes by the Ledins and a more personal contribution by the soloist.