The medium of piano and strings has a kind of domestic
intimacy - as if light music, unlike the more serious implied conflicts
of the larger Concerto form. The music has its roots in the Concerto
Grosso of Handel. In British music of the 20th century there are innumerable
short works, light pieces, for this combination. Of these this disc
is excitingly representative. There is something entirely characteristic
about the medium of string orchestra sound when penetrated by the keyboard
line, often in single notes or octaves, that is quite distinct from
the true chamber music of piano quartet or quintet.
It is permissible, therefore, to take, as premise,
a specifically poetic idea, like 'Peacock Pie' providing a less formal
structure, although generally in the convention of three movements.
Others are simply entitled 'Concertino' - though this diminutive seldom
implies a miniature Concerto with all that that might involve.
Some of the best examples of the genre are on this
disc - one can readily think of others -Walter Leigh, Gerald Finzi,
Alec Rowley? The doyen of the medium, at least here, is undoubtedly
Armstrong Gibbs, represented by his Concertino of 1942, and the Suite
'Peacock Pie' which latter provides the covering title. The earliest,
Cyril Rootham's 'Miniature Suite' hints at folk origins, while the latest,
Gordon Jacob's Concertino (1954) inhabits, in the words of Lewis Foreman's
excellent sleeve notes, "a more hard-edged world". It is nonetheless
rewarding to listen to. Perhaps the slightest, and least individual
work, is the Milford Concertino.
The two works by Armstrong Gibbs are masterpieces in
the medium. He knew well the world of de la Mare and his musical conceptions
in the Suite have all the fantasy and magic of the poetry. 'The Sunken
Garden' with its shade - de la Mare's mystery was in shade, never in
total shadow - recalls mysterious figures like John Mouldy in his cellar,
or whoever it is that hides "in the little green orchard". And in the
6/8 'The Ride by Nights' reminiscent of a Rackham drawing, it is easy
to picture the cloaked and cowled riders. The Concertino is the largest
piece on the disc, and is perhaps the nearest approach to a miniature
concerto -serious, even grave in content despite the skipping motif
of the opening bars. There are richly romantic moments, the suggestion
of "a big tune" -an elegiac central movement with just a hint of Chopin/Tchaikovsky,
and a totally unexpected Finale with its light capricious rhythm. Asks
Lewis Foreman in the notes "Why don't people whistle any more? " They
will after this - I certainly did!
Last but by no means least, the cheeky Festival Scherzo
of Madeleine Dring rounds off the proceedings - but not without a warm
reminder, in the central essentially English section, of the romantic
impulse which all these works share. This record is a delight.
See also review by Hubert