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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Piano Concerto in C minor - original version (first recording) (1904) [28:41]
John IRELAND (1897-1962)

Legend for Piano and Orchestra (1933) [11:38]
Piano Concerto in E flat major (1930) [23:52]
Piers Lane (piano)
Ulster Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Ulster Hall, Belfast, 8-9 March 2005. DDD
The Romantic Piano Concerto Ė Vol. 39
HYPERION CDA67296 [64:24]

Piers Lane has recorded the Delius Piano Concerto before Ė but not in this version. He made a recording for the EMI Eminence label in July 1994, coupled with the Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto and Finziís Eclogue, but that recording used the familiar final version. What we have here is the premiere recording of the original version of the score.

The Delius concerto has a history of revisions and re-workings that is almost worthy of a Bruckner symphony. It is worth summarising the tale here and to do so I draw on Robert Threlfallís excellent liner note. In 1897 Delius completed a single movement Fantasy for orchestra and piano in C minor. He subsequently revised the material substantially, turning it into a three-movement concerto, which was first heard in 1904. Thatís what Piers Lane gives us on this CD. Further extensive surgery on the score followed, including the excision of the whole last movement. In this further revision of the score, completed by 1907, all three movements became linked. Delius involved a pianist friend, Theodor Szántó, in the process of revision. It was Szántó who was responsible for rewriting the piano part in a much more virtuoso style. Szántó gave the first performance of the revised version in 1907. Yet more retouching was done by Sir Thomas Beecham in the early 1950s and itís this Delius-Szántó-Beecham version that is usually heard nowadays and which, I assume, was used on Laneís 1994 recording.

I may as well be candid and say at the outset that I donít find this concerto to be one of the composerís better works. Much of it is written in a red-blooded, romantic style that isnít really convincing. Delius did red-blooded romanticism much better in Appalachia, which dates from around the same time as the original score of the concerto. There are obvious influences of Grieg and even, in the more bravura passages, of Liszt but these donít seem to be fully digested. Listening to Piers Laneís two recordings I feel that in many ways the revision was beneficial, not least in terms of brevity. His recording of the 1907 score plays for 22:46, nearly six minutes shorter than this present recording. The revised version substituted one rather unconvincing finale for another. However, the finale of the 1907 score is much shorter Ė 5:42 in Laneís 1994 recording against 11:32 here. Really, the 1904 finale is far too long and discursive for its own good. The 1907 finale doesnít really show Delius at his best either but at least that movement has the advantage of comparative brevity.

The first movement is on a large scale and contains a good deal of bravura writing for the soloist and for the orchestra too. One of the most notable changes that Delius made in the 1907 revision was to end the fist movement quietly so that it merges seamlessly into the slow movement. That, I think, is very much preferable to the loud ending that we hear on this occasion. The second, slow, movement is largely the same in both versions of the score. Itís a poetic, nocturne-like piece and contains the most characteristically Delian pages in the entire score. Itís beautifully recreated here. Lane plays with great sensitivity and heís supported wonderfully well by the orchestra. Of particular note is the ravishing short solo cello passage near the end, which is beautifully played by the Ulster Orchestraís principal.

The finale is the longest movement and the most discursive. Its big gestures sit rather oddly against the more sensitive music of Deliusís maturity but, of course, this is a relatively early work. To my ears some of the music comes perilously close to bombast. The 1904 score includes a lengthy cadenza, which was omitted from the revised score Ė though some of the material was recycled into the later Violin Concerto. Ironically, the cadenza contains some of the most characteristic music in the finale. I rather regret that Delius discarded it completely from the revised score. Lane and Lloyd-Jones play the movement for all its worth and they make the most of the rhetorical flourishes. Iím sure the solo part is very taxing but Lane seems to make light of the difficulties.

No such textural issues affect the two works by John Ireland. His Legend represents all that he was able to complete of a projected Second Piano Concerto. Itís an interesting and atmospheric score and this performance seems to me to be a good one. The Piano Concerto itself is rather more familiar fare. Todayís listener may well be reminded of Prokofievís Third Piano Concerto (1921) from time to time, especially in the busy toccata-like passages of the finale. There are also times when the music reminds one of Ravelís G major concerto. However, Lewis Foreman points out in his extremely good note that Ireland couldnít have known Ravelís score, as it hadnít then been finished. So, as he says, the "apparent resonances [of Ravelís piece] merely record something that was in the air." I very much enjoyed this performance. Piers Lane seems to be thoroughly at home with the piece and he gives a very convincing reading of the solo part. Once again he receives admirable support from David Lloyd-Jones and his players. I was especially impressed by the sensitive and affectionate way that they open the slow movement, ushering in Laneís thoughtful opening solo quite magically. All the performers are no less responsive to the many lively, not to say perky, passages in the concerto.

This is a most interesting disc. For me the Delius is rather a weak work but Delians will want to take this opportunity to hear for the first time a genuine rarity, especially in such a good and committed performance. The Ireland performances are just as good. As Iíve already indicated that the liner-notes are extremely informative and the recorded sound is fully satisfactory. This is another fascinating and enterprising addition to the Hyperion catalogue, which I recommend to all enthusiasts for English music.

John Quinn

see also review by Ian Lace


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