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Roger SESSIONS (1896-1985)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1955-56) [18.29]
Francis THORNE (b. 1922)
Piano Concerto No.3 (1989) [25.45]
Robert Taub (piano) – Sessions
Ursula Oppens (piano) – Thorne
Westchester Philharmonic/Paul Lustig Dunkel
rec. Studio A, Performing Arts Centre, Purchase College, January 1993 (Thorne), January 1994 (Sessions)
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80443-2 [44.19]



Francis Thorne’s 1989 Concerto makes a real impression in this expert performance. Opening with a flourish – a real spiritoso drive – it draws on trumpet drama and efflorescence; bold, confident and brassy. There are hints of jazz in the writing, for soloist in particular, where Thorne alludes to Harlem Stride; at least that’s what it sounds like to me – a touch of Willie “The Lion” Smith expertly woven into the tapestry. There’s plenty of syncopation and counterpoint and listen from 4.00 onwards to a ravishingly beautiful theme and then again between 8.40 and 8.50 for some off-beat jazz percussion that sees us through to the climax of this invigorating and energising first movement.

String choirs lead in the central movement, a reflective solo giving gravitas and thoughtfulness to the music-making. The finale is a propulsive toccata and the toughest of the three movements but one that dips into Thorne’s arsenal of delicious tunefulness as well – try the string cantilena from 3.10 on. His Third Concerto is a real find; try to get to hear it in this performance with Oppens a dynamic propagandist.

Sessions’s Concerto is now a half-century-old and its power and command have not faded. The delicacy of its opening is deceptive as it grows in force and builds through blocks of release, reprieve and renewed drive. The apex of the opening movement is however one of perfectly timed tranquillity and the kind of refracted Bachian procedures of the central movement – an Adagio of great concentration – are not untouched by the severe patina of the orchestration. The finale, as per Thorne’s much later work, offers a kind of syncopated toccata, one replete with a degree of pugnacious brass brutality alternating with solo piano writing of elliptical independence. Needless to say Robert Taub performs with considerable command of the unsettled idiom here, as elsewhere, and Paul Lustig Dunkel leads The Westchester Philharmonic - a name which sounds like one of those pseudonymous orchestras from 1950s LPs - with considerable distinction.

Jonathan Woolf


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