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Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)
Romeo and Juliet (1924-25) [29.51]
Elegiac Blues (1927 orchestrated 1928) [2.54]
Piano Concerto (1924) [17.01]
The Bird Actors – Overture (1925 revised 1927) [3.18]
Prize Fight – Ballet in One Act (1924 revised 1927) [9.12]
Jonathan Plowright (piano)
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Recorded Clothworkers’ Hall, University of Leeds, 19-20 December 2004
HYPERION CDA 67545 [62.52]

No one puts a foot wrong here. The programme may not plumb great depths but Lambert’s muse was always wide-anging, not least in his ballets, and this disc gives us two such interspersed with the early Concerto, his homage to Florence Mills, and the overture The Bird Actors.

Hyperion has had the enlightened idea to secure the services of Jonathan Plowright for the Concerto and David Lloyd-Jones reprises his Lambert credentials once more for the company.

Romeo and Juliet is a delectable score written for Diaghilev between 1924 and 1925, that’s to say between Lambert’s nineteenth and twentieth birthdays. Those plucky, puckish Francophile winds in the Siciliana show off his stylistic affinities as does the fugato and Stravinskian hints of the Sonatina (both of these from the First Tableau), enlivened as it is by the rhythmic bite of the brass. The Sinfonia is a bold, colourful march, the duel scene a Toccata of unremitting energy and dramatic tension, superbly scored, and the Burlesca a cool unwinding wind line that hints at alarm and portents. Then again the Adagietto (Death of Juliet) is laid out with tangible and touching refinement.

This is no less true of the Elegiac Blues written in 1927 and orchestrated the following year. Florence Mills represented something of the black American musical diaspora in herself and her death provoked this touching envoi, all the more touching in fact for its brevity.

The Concerto is scored for piano, two trumpets, strings and timpani and is quite dissimilar from the later Concerto for Piano and Nine Players. It was orchestrated in 1988 by Edward Shipley and Giles Easterbrook. Compact and convincing, despite its relatively low profile amongst Lambert’s works, there’s real bite and brio in the rhythmic incision of the first movement (of four). Try to hear Plowright extract the optimum bass colouration in the Presto second movement and the rolling energy of the score, notably the piano’s response to the orchestra. There’s a bucket load of zest – tangy, propulsive, kinetic and alive. For the Andante Lambert shunts the soloist further up the keyboard, with the soloist’s rich lines in response to brass insistence or more yielding string material; all of this winding down to a domestic music box sonority of ineffable charm and pathos. Impressively vibrant there’s a decided Russian cast to the finale that drives all before it.

The Bird Actors has a certain Gallic insouciance in the winds and percussion (cross reference this to the Siciliana of Romeo and Juliet) and Prize Fight of 1924, revised 1927, taps into the vein of pugilism that ran throughout the 1920s – try Krenek’s slightly later 1927 spoofy one act opera Schwergewicht oder Die Ehre Der Nation. Satiric and full of playfully crude quotations such as When Johnny Comes Marching Home it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome at nine minutes and makes for a bracing, Stravinsky and Prokofiev influenced finale.

The recording quality and booklet notes are up to Hyperion’s generous standard. The performances are spot-on.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Rob Barnett




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