Two versions of the Rawsthorne Piano Concertos were reissued in
2007 – the one under review and Malcolm Binns/Nicholas Braithwaite
on Lyrita SRCD255. RB gave an enthusiastic welcome to the Lyrita
– see review
– as did JW – see review.
JW made a passing reference to the Chandos and a third version
on Naxos (“all three are excellent and recommendable”) but the
Chandos reissue seems to have slipped through the MusicWeb net.
As a CD, this version is available at mid price
(CHAN10339X, £7.99 from Chandos’s own theclassicalshop); as a
download it comes in mp3 format (number as per heading @ £6) or
in a choice of lossless versions (CHAN10339W @ £8). As part of
Chandos’s policy of keeping deleted recordings available as downloads,
it is also available under its original catalogue number CHAN9125
(mp3) and CHAN9125W (lossless) but, as the lossless version in
this format costs £10, it seems only logical to stay with the
reissue. Chandos need to look at some of the illogicalities of
their pricing of downloads – £6 is attractive for the mp3 version
of a deletion or mid-price reissue, but who is going to pay £10
for a lossless download when they can buy the CD for £7.99 or
less? The new cover is also more attractive than the old. As a download it is also available from Classicsonline
(see link above).
The mp3 version is not advertised as one of the
newer 320kbps versions, so I chose to download the wma version
(wav and aiff versions are also available, but these come as
large files and take ages to download). The result, burned
to CDR or played via mp3 player and Arcam Solo, was excellent;
I cannot imagine that the CD sounds any better.
I readily admit to being a fan of Rawsthorne’s
music. Perhaps that’s partly attributable to his friendship
with fellow Lancastrian Walton, whose music I also like very
much, or maybe it’s because he was born in Haslingden, a few
miles from my home town of Blackburn. He was not a prolific
composer, so the fact that it is possible to get to know most
of his output in a short space may also be part of the appeal.
Be that as it may, all the music on this recording has a ready
appeal, even the Concerto for Two Pianos, written late in the
composer’s life and decidedly angular in places.
The First Concerto was composed in a version for
chamber orchestra in 1939 and revised in 1942 for full orchestra.
It manages to be music both ready in its appeal and with something
to say – its ambiguous tonality makes no concessions to popularity
but it isn’t a ‘difficult’ work and it’s certainly not full
of wartime gloom.
Nine years later he achieved the same combination
in the Second Concerto, written for the Festival of Britain
and performed in the new Festival Hall by Clifford Curzon.
If you have heard anything by Rawsthorne, it’s likely to be
the popular Street Corner overture (included on the Lyrita
recording); the Piano Concertos don’t quite have that immediacy
of appeal, but they would make a logical next step in getting
to know this neglected composer. I know that I keep referring
to composers such as Rawsthorne and Rubbra as unjustly neglected,
but it really is true that their music really is much more worthwhile
than is generally realised. Thanks to Chandos, Lyrita and Naxos
for appreciating that – but remember that they can’t go on doing
so without our support. You could express that support by buying
any one of the three excellent versions of these concertos.
Geoffrey Tozer is a very able soloist, very well
partnered by Tamara Cislowska in the Concerto for Two Pianos
– I couldn’t tell who was playing which part. With good orchestral
support and good recording, this is most recommendable. I cannot
speak for the mp3 version on this occasion, but I have had no
problems with other Chandos recordings which I have downloaded
as mp3s, even at the lower 192kbps bit-rate. Whichever version
you may choose to download, it’s worth taking the offer of linking
the last two tracks, where the music is continuous, to avoid
a short gap – and beware of Windows media-player’s annoying
habit of inserting a 2-second gap between tracks when burning:
play, burn a CDR or sync from another programme if you can.
Tozer and Bamert’s tempi are midway between those
of Donohoe and Yuasa on Naxos (8.555959), who are consistently
slightly faster, and those of Binns/Braithwaite on Lyrita, who
are noticeably slower throughout. Without making detailed comparisons
– which tell only part of the story, anyway – both the Chandos
and Naxos versions seemed completely right within their own
CC thought highly of the Naxos recording – see
– a version with which I have happily lived for some time; on
CD it’s slightly cheaper than the Chandos Classics reissue,
but not by a huge margin. JF also liked the Naxos – see review
– but ultimately plumped for the Chandos, chiefly for sake of
the Concerto for Two Pianos. In deciding that the Naxos version
now makes its way to the charity shop in favour of keeping the
Chandos, I am also influenced by a preference for the double
concerto over the Naxos filler, Improvisations on a theme
by Constant Lambert, a purely orchestral piece sandwiched
between the two concertos.
I was loath, however, to lose that Naxos filler.
One advantage of downloading is the ability to mix and match:
I purchased the Naxos track containing the Improvisations
from emusic for all of 24p (if you take the 50 tracks for £11.99
option) and inserted it in the same place which it occupies
on the Naxos CD, after the First Concerto.
I could have copied the track from my copy of the
Naxos before disposing of it, but I wanted to see how well the
mp3 track blended with the wma tracks from Chandos. I have
to say that there was little, if any, appreciable difference
between the two – the Naxos download is at the high bit-rate
of 320kbps – leaving me with four very satisfactory performances
on a 75-minute CDR. I converted the mp3 track to wav format
before burning it, but that wasn’t really necessary.
On CD or as a download, you really should go for
at least one of these recordings. All three may be had on CD
or as downloads. The Naxos is available as a download from
classicsonline or emusic and the Lyrita recording is also available
from emusic (14 tracks of whatever monthly programme you choose).
You could even take Street Corner, track 7 from that
Lyrita version and combine it with the Chandos versions of the
Piano Concertos, as I combined the track from the Naxos recording.
In fact, if I find myself in future with a Rawsthorne download
with room for another 5½ minutes, that’s exactly what I shall
Whichever version you choose, both the Chandos
and the Naxos notes are free to all comers from their websites.
Both sets of notes, by Alan Frank and John M Belcher respectively,
are well worth having.