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John Donald ROBB (1892-1989)
Piano Concerto (1950) [27:14]
Hayg BOYADJIAN (b.1938)           
Symphony No.2 [23.11]
Tatiana Vetrinskaya (piano)
National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/David Oberg
No recording details [but Symphony recorded January 2000]
OPUS ONE 187 [50.25]
Following on from Robb’s 1946 Symphony, strongly influenced by Vaughan Williams, Bartók and Barber, which Opus One coupled with the less impressive Viola Concerto and which I have also reviewed here (see review), we now have Robb’s 1950 Piano Concerto. This was written at his summer home near New York and was premiered two years later with the Albuquerque Symphony under Hans Lange. The soloist was the distinguished figure of Andor Foldes, who’d commissioned the piece.
In the intervening half a century without any performances, the score has been re-edited and what we hear is not quite what Foldes and the orchestra performed in 1952. The effect of the revision has been in the interests of practicality and a lot of the doubling in the heavier woodwind and brass has been simplified. This revised, smaller version was premiered by the present soloist with the Chamber Orchestra of Albuquerque under David Oberg in 2001.
As with the Viola Concerto, Robb used figures derived from Mexican music, the Ricardo, El Borreguero and Leonore for each of the three movements. The results are much more immediate and enjoyable than the amorphous string concerto. When the piano writing is chordal it’s resonant if not especially distinctive, But there is plenty of local colour orchestrally and a Robb songfulness that derives from the inheritance of the composer influences noted above. He is also unafraid to weave some neo-baroque moments into the fabric but never enough to countenance neo-classicism. The piano’s second movement lied is especially touching, the strings’ geniality adding to the warmth; obscure Robb may be but he doesn’t lack for lyricism though the idiom is old fashioned. The finale has a convivial and conversational loquaciousness that carries it on – there’s a touch of fugato and a compliant piano joins in. This is good, open-hearted and un-academic stuff.
Coupled with the Concerto is Hayg Boyadjian’s Second Symphony, written expressly for this recording but I can’t quite confirm the year because the notes, by the composer himself, don’t tell us – about 1999/2000 I suppose. It’s cast in two movements and makes a considerable, almost implacable, contrast to the earlier work. Orchestral statements are granitic and much here is densely argued with powerful chromaticism and brusque drama. The second movement is more elusive than the first – the composer mentions Ives’s The Unanswered Question in his notes as an analogue for a musical question mark – and it’s true that the orchestra seems to be questing, unresolved, toward something. Boyadjian is particularly effective at setting up these questioning paragraphal passages. It’s a tough, sinewy work and deliberately uningratiating.  
Notes are rather home-produced in Opus One’s gatefold-plus-sheath house style. If it cuts down costs to enable these recordings to be made then so be it – although I should say that my notes stuck to the sheath and consequently half the type on the back page is now stuck to the plastic. Keep your Opus Ones somewhere cool to avoid such problems.

Jonathan Woolf   


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