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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Piano Concerto Op 13 (1938 rev. 1945) [34:17]
John IRELAND (1879-1962) Concerto in E flat for Piano and Orchestra (1930) [24:28].
David Strong (piano)
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
rec. 7-10 June 2006, Symfonien, Aalborg, Denmark. DDD


This is a well produced and attractively presented disc, with a scene of Aldeburgh's beach on the front cover. The pairing of the works by Britten and his teacher is interesting and informative. Ireland's concerto is very pleasant, although perhaps not exceptional and is less often heard and less frequently recorded than the better known Britten.

The latter is already definitively recorded by its dedicatee Richter on London - a disc lower in price than this one - and well recorded by Joanna Macgregor on Naxos at that label's usual bargain price [review]. The latter review describes the work in some detail, and I therefore shall minimise further duplication here.

It is difficult to see that this current recording would be an obvious choice although that is not because it is devoid of merit; and indeed it has excellent playing and good recording quality. It should however appeal to the collector of recordings of Britten's concerto or to anyone who finds this pairing of particular interest and it most inevitably will be to some.

This performance of this early and relatively routine work is brisk in pace and sparkling in tone. It bursts into action with pounding energy, but then opens up into a good dynamic range. The soloist is strong both by name and by nature. His style is forward and at times attacking but this is quite well suited to the concerto's somewhat military tone. Pleasing contrast is to be found in the slower (andante lento) third movement before a return to the opening tempo in the closing March.

Ireland's work is more mellow and very English in character. Its lovely opening is refreshing after the pounding intensity of the Britten finale. It is a gentle and lyrical work in the key of E-flat. The balance of power between soloist and orchestra is more equal than in the other work; its description as a 'concerto for piano and orchestra' rather than as a 'piano concerto', reflecting this. It is always pleasant, though hardly ever exceptional; its pace quickens only in the third and final movement allegretto giocoso. This is a thoughtful and sensitive performance by both soloist and orchestra and the recording quality is very good.

Recordings of the Ireland are fewer - as indeed are performances - and it is a work I consider deserving of more attention than it receives. This is undoubtedly the most recent, and the most technically advanced recording of the Ireland - and this is probably this disc's biggest selling point. However, there is a 1990 recording by Kathryn Stott, where it is attractively paired with works by Bridge (another teacher of Benjamin Britten) and by Walton. This is pleasant and cheaper in price, although a less recent recording. I like Stott's playing; her style suits the work.

Julie Williams



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