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Malcolm WILLIAMSON (1931-2003)
Concerto for Organ and Orchestra * (1961) [27:02]
Piano Concerto No.3 in E flat ** (1962) [32:19]
Sonata for Two Pianos *** (1967) [7:36]
* Malcolm Williamson (organ)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
** Malcolm Williamson (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Dommett
*** Malcolm Williamson and Richard Rodney Bennett, (pianos)
rec. January 1974, Guildford Cathedral (organ); February 1974, Kingsway Hall (piano). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.280 [67:02]

At last something like justice is being done on record to the music of Malcolm Williamson. Chandos and Naxos have given us orchestral and choral works, and the present disc fills out the former in more than satisfactory manner. We still await the operas, in particular "Our Man in Havana" and "The Growing Castle", to say nothing of reissues of "The Happy Prince" and "Julius Caesar Jones". Perhaps these will follow if the present disc has the success it deserves. It is wholly involving from start to finish, with music of immense freshness and vitality.

The Organ Concerto, dedicated to Sir Adrian Boult, straightaway shows the composer’s ingenuity in solving the somewhat intractable problem of balancing and scoring for organ and orchestra. It starts with an introductory cadenza for timpani on the notes ACB with interjections by harp and organ, followed by an explosive movement making much use of the brass. The slow movement is dominated by the strings and the last movement, after an organ cadenza, uses all sections of the orchestra. The composer comments in his useful notes that "the first performance was received with enthusiastic abuse by the more conservative elements of the British organ world for being too venturesome, by Baroque enthusiasts for its use of the romantic organ, and by some critics for not being sufficiently venturesome". Now that the Concerto is nearly half a century old these comments seem to be wholly missing the point of a work of such an individual character. We are not so well off for good modern organ concertos that we can afford to neglect this one. Unsurprisingly this performance by the composer conducted by the dedicatee makes the most of the piece, helped by a clear and full recording.

The Third Piano Concerto is just as individual. It starts with a toccata mixed with a typical lyrical Williamson tune, followed by a scherzo, slow movement and riotous dance. This Concerto too managed to cause consternation in some listeners when it was first performed, perhaps because it seemed to belong to neither the conservative nor the more progressive groups into which composers had gathered themselves at that time. Again, heard after such a long period, what strikes this listener immediately is its vitality and imagination. Even if there may be a suspicion at times that the composer was more prolific in ideas than he was prepared to polish or refine them, it is best simply to accept this as a characteristic of his musical style. Otherwise we deny ourselves a whole world of fascinating and enjoyable invention. Again the performance and recording show the music to its best advantage.

The Sonata is the least immediately attractive piece on the disc, but it is short and repays repeated listening, as indeed does the whole disc, which is one of Lyrita’s most valuable and enjoyable reissues. As I have said earlier, I hope that it will lead to many further issues of other parts of this immensely prolific composer’s output.

John Sheppard

see also review by Rob Barnett

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