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Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971)
Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (1939, revised 1942) [18:26]
Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra (1951) [26:56]
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra* (1968) [17:06]
Geoffrey Tozer (piano); *Tamara Cislowska (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Matthias Bamert
rec. Goldsmith’s College, New Cross, London, 1-2 August 1992. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10339X [60:28]


Experience Classicsonline

Two versions of the Rawsthorne Piano Concertos were reissued in 2007 – the one under review and Malcolm Binns/Nicholas Braithwaite on Lyrita SRCD255. RB gave an enthusiastic welcome to the Lyrita – see review – as did JW – see review. JW made a passing reference to the Chandos and a third version on Naxos (“all three are excellent and recommendable”) but the Chandos reissue seems to have slipped through the MusicWeb net.

As a CD, this version is available at mid price (CHAN10339X, 7.99 from Chandos’s own theclassicalshop); as a download it comes in mp3 format (number as per heading @ 6) or in a choice of lossless versions (CHAN10339W @ 8). As part of Chandos’s policy of keeping deleted recordings available as downloads, it is also available under its original catalogue number CHAN9125 (mp3) and CHAN9125W (lossless) but, as the lossless version in this format costs 10, it seems only logical to stay with the reissue. Chandos need to look at some of the illogicalities of their pricing of downloads – 6 is attractive for the mp3 version of a deletion or mid-price reissue, but who is going to pay 10 for a lossless download when they can buy the CD for 7.99 or less? The new cover is also more attractive than the old. As a download it is also available from Classicsonline (see link above).

The mp3 version is not advertised as one of the newer 320kbps versions, so I chose to download the wma version (wav and aiff versions are also available, but these come as large files and take ages to download). The result, burned to CDR or played via mp3 player and Arcam Solo, was excellent; I cannot imagine that the CD sounds any better. 

I readily admit to being a fan of Rawsthorne’s music. Perhaps that’s partly attributable to his friendship with fellow Lancastrian Walton, whose music I also like very much, or maybe it’s because he was born in Haslingden, a few miles from my home town of Blackburn. He was not a prolific composer, so the fact that it is possible to get to know most of his output in a short space may also be part of the appeal. Be that as it may, all the music on this recording has a ready appeal, even the Concerto for Two Pianos, written late in the composer’s life and decidedly angular in places. 

The First Concerto was composed in a version for chamber orchestra in 1939 and revised in 1942 for full orchestra. It manages to be music both ready in its appeal and with something to say – its ambiguous tonality makes no concessions to popularity but it isn’t a ‘difficult’ work and it’s certainly not full of wartime gloom. 

Nine years later he achieved the same combination in the Second Concerto, written for the Festival of Britain and performed in the new Festival Hall by Clifford Curzon. If you have heard anything by Rawsthorne, it’s likely to be the popular Street Corner overture (included on the Lyrita recording); the Piano Concertos don’t quite have that immediacy of appeal, but they would make a logical next step in getting to know this neglected composer. I know that I keep referring to composers such as Rawsthorne and Rubbra as unjustly neglected, but it really is true that their music really is much more worthwhile than is generally realised. Thanks to Chandos, Lyrita and Naxos for appreciating that – but remember that they can’t go on doing so without our support. You could express that support by buying any one of the three excellent versions of these concertos. 

Geoffrey Tozer is a very able soloist, very well partnered by Tamara Cislowska in the Concerto for Two Pianos – I couldn’t tell who was playing which part. With good orchestral support and good recording, this is most recommendable. I cannot speak for the mp3 version on this occasion, but I have had no problems with other Chandos recordings which I have downloaded as mp3s, even at the lower 192kbps bit-rate. Whichever version you may choose to download, it’s worth taking the offer of linking the last two tracks, where the music is continuous, to avoid a short gap – and beware of Windows media-player’s annoying habit of inserting a 2-second gap between tracks when burning: play, burn a CDR or sync from another programme if you can. 

Tozer and Bamert’s tempi are midway between those of Donohoe and Yuasa on Naxos (8.555959), who are consistently slightly faster, and those of Binns/Braithwaite on Lyrita, who are noticeably slower throughout. Without making detailed comparisons – which tell only part of the story, anyway – both the Chandos and Naxos versions seemed completely right within their own contexts. 

CC thought highly of the Naxos recording – see review – a version with which I have happily lived for some time; on CD it’s slightly cheaper than the Chandos Classics reissue, but not by a huge margin. JF also liked the Naxos – see review – but ultimately plumped for the Chandos, chiefly for sake of the Concerto for Two Pianos. In deciding that the Naxos version now makes its way to the charity shop in favour of keeping the Chandos, I am also influenced by a preference for the double concerto over the Naxos filler, Improvisations on a theme by Constant Lambert, a purely orchestral piece sandwiched between the two concertos. 

I was loath, however, to lose that Naxos filler. One advantage of downloading is the ability to mix and match: I purchased the Naxos track containing the Improvisations from emusic for all of 24p (if you take the 50 tracks for 11.99 option) and inserted it in the same place which it occupies on the Naxos CD, after the First Concerto. 

I could have copied the track from my copy of the Naxos before disposing of it, but I wanted to see how well the mp3 track blended with the wma tracks from Chandos. I have to say that there was little, if any, appreciable difference between the two – the Naxos download is at the high bit-rate of 320kbps – leaving me with four very satisfactory performances on a 75-minute CDR. I converted the mp3 track to wav format before burning it, but that wasn’t really necessary. 

On CD or as a download, you really should go for at least one of these recordings. All three may be had on CD or as downloads. The Naxos is available as a download from classicsonline or emusic and the Lyrita recording is also available from emusic (14 tracks of whatever monthly programme you choose). You could even take Street Corner, track 7 from that Lyrita version and combine it with the Chandos versions of the Piano Concertos, as I combined the track from the Naxos recording. In fact, if I find myself in future with a Rawsthorne download with room for another 5 minutes, that’s exactly what I shall do. 

Whichever version you choose, both the Chandos and the Naxos notes are free to all comers from their websites. Both sets of notes, by Alan Frank and John M Belcher respectively, are well worth having.

Brian Wilson


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