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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1930) [14:38]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1960) [28:40]
Derby Day - overture (1960) [6:08]
Sonata alla Toccata (1947) [10:09]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
rec. 24-25 May 2004, 21 May 2005 (sonata), Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK. DDD
NAXOS 8.557590 [59:35]



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The Naxos British piano concerto series continues to make impressive and audacious headway. Both works have been recorded before - by Chandos as part of the Hickox-Alwyn cycle but it is good to have them here logically harnessed and at bargain price.

Despite the liner-notes the First Concerto is not neo-classical. It somehow reaches a treaty between the styles of the Copland piano concerto, the John Ireland and even the Bliss. Shostakovich’s Second Concerto lay in the far future but Alwyn’s writing seems to grope towards its energetic youthfulness. A crepuscular glimmer and tenderness carries over into the adagio molto e tranquillo finale; very much a case of Nights in the gardens of Sussex. The work ends without bread and circuses but on a sustained breath. The recording quality is impressive - listen at 3:40 in the first movement to those ‘yawning’ French horns.

After a good long pause comes the uproar of Derby Day. This is music out of the same clamorous drawer as Alwyn's Fourth Symphony: nervy propulsive, eldritch, tetchy and in touch with the nightmare visions of Vaughan Williams in his Pilgrim's Progress and Sixth Symphony. A more than worthy addition to the genre of the exuberant British concert overture.

Vaughan Williams' Sixth is also a wraith in the background of the Second Piano Concerto. Here is a work that was written for the 1960s Proms to be played by Cor de Groote. Unfortunately de Groote's health prevented the performance and the work was forgotten until it was recorded in the early 1990s by Chandos. Evidently it was written in defiance of the stylistic norms of the 1960s. Much of it looks towards Rachmaninov and this is felt at its strongest in the first movement which is followed by a gracious but almost expressionist andante where solo lines from the orchestra give the movement a chamber character. The finale has that grand misty Rachmaninovian manner heard at zenith at 6:00.

While I reject Naxos's claim that the First Concerto is neo-classical, the syncopatedly busy Sonata Alla Toccata is a different matter altogether. Here the cap fits to perfection.

Superb clean recording stinting neither on subtlety nor impact.

The cover is graced with a wonderful primitivist Sussex landscape by James Dickson Innes (1887-1914) - more please.

The notes are by Andrew Palmer of the Alwyn Foundation.

This is another illustrious entry in Naxos's British Piano Concerto series. Let me recommend strongly that Mr Donohoe and the company look at the piano concertos of Roger Sacheverell Coke (the English Rachmaninov), the classically-inclined retrospective concertos of Nottingham-born Walter Thomas Gaze Cooper and the isolated concertos of Albert Coates and Ruth Gipps. There's plenty more to come.

This disc is issued in the 18th year since Naxos began issuing new recordings at bargain price. The label sells 10 million classical CDs each year and some twenty new recordings are made by Naxos every month.

For a limited period this disc comes with a bonus CD which is effectively a sampler for the Naxos British music catalogue. It contain s eleven complete movements by Elgar, Britten, RVW, Delius, Bliss, Walton, Holst, Finzi and Arnold. A make-weight but a welcome piece of shop window advocacy.

All of these Alwyn works have been recorded before - largely by Chandos - although it was Sheila Randall who in 1960 - recorded the Sonata on a rare mono Lyrita. However in the case of the concertos this is only the second time they have been recorded. No other disc couples the two concertos nor gives us the other two works.

Rob Barnett

see also Review by Tony Haywood




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