> RUBBRA, BRITTEN Piano Concertos 5747812 [RB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Piano Concerto (1956)
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Piano Concerto (1938)
Prelude and Fugue for 18-part string orchestra (1943)

Rubbra: Denis Matthews (piano)/BBCSO/Sargent rec Kingsway Hall, London, 30 Aug 1956
Britten Concerto: Jacques Abram (piano)/Philharmonia/Herbert Menges. rec Abbey Rd, 25 Jan 1956
Britten: RPO/Norman Del Mar, rec Studio 1, Abbey Rd, 9 July 1964
EMI CLASSICS CDZ 5 74781 2 [68.03]
bargain price


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The present disc commands the attention by making freshly available the first commercial recordings of these works: two piano concertos framing a Prelude and Fugue for strings.
It is especially pleasing to see these two concertos return to the catalogue. The last time I recall them breaking the surface was in a 4LP box of British piano concertos issued by EMI in 1977 as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations.
The Rubbra concerto was commissioned by the BBC and the present performers also gave the world premiere. The dedicatee was the Pakistani musician, Ali Akbar Khan. Do not expect, however, a work woven from Indian material. Perhaps its contemplative inwardness is a reflection of that connection although subtlety and spirituality are Rubbra hallmarks in any event. Influences are present as you wopuld expect. I caught myself thinking of Sibelius and of Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antartica once or twice. The age of these recordings shows in the razory tone taken by the strings at climactic moments. Matthews and Sargent are excellent and Rubbra must surely have been pleased with the results. The competition, in the shape of a BBC Radio Classics disc, is worth finding despite the opacity of the studio sound. The LSO are conducted, in that case, by Vernon Handley. The pianist in the Rubbra Concerto is Malcolm Binns. These tapes come from a 1970s BBC concert. Incidentally in the 1956 recording I noticed a little cough at 00.06 on track 2. Interesting to note that Raymond Leppard was the producer for the Rubbra.
The Prelude and Fugue is in Britten's oblique rather than populist manner. Del Mar and his accustomed orchestra invests the work with scorching life looking back to the virtuosity and display of the Bridge Variations. The work was written for Boyd Neel and his orchestra. What a fine conductor Del Mar was. This is a stereo recording. The élan and drive Abram brings to the Britten concerto does not disappoint. Menges (best known as a conductor in concertos) collaborates with ardour. This is a work requiring alertness and split second attention. Its brilliance is undeniable but its heart is elusive.
Decent notes from Rubbra and Arthur Jacobs.
A significant collection which will appeal strongly to Rubbra and Britten specialists.


Rob Barnett

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