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British Piano Concertos
rec. various locations 1970s-1990s. ADD/DDD
Contents list at end of review

This 4-CD boxed set is a companion volume to Lyrita’s British String Concertos set on SRCD2346, which similarly collects previously issued items from the company’s distinguished releases. All have been reviewed here in their single-CD incarnations and Editor Rob Barnett has already reviewed this box, so I shall only say a few brief words of welcome to this highly desirable collection.

The set includes the expected favourites, and not all, by any means, are concertos. It’s good that Stanford’s C minor Concerto is here in the recording Malcolm Binns made with Nicholas Braithwaite, an extrovert Rachmaninovian work exuding panache and colour. Finzi’s beautiful Eclogue – I practically wore out my LP of it – is a ten-minute Elysian favourite. It’s followed by a work of utterly different stripe – this first disc seems to have been compiled on the opposites attract principle - in Foulds’s forward-looking and brilliant Dynamic Triptych, that surprised so many when Howard Shelley and Vernon Handley’s LP was released. In terms of rhythmic and colouristic appeal it has few challengers in the British repertoire of its time, or any subsequent time, but not to be overlooked is the sheer expressive intensity of its slow movement.

Disc two centres on that most dishonest decade, the 1930s, presenting Bridge’s unsettling, gaunt, ghostly Phantasm – one of the most ambiguously powerful works of those years – and Vaughan Williams’s Piano Concerto in C, written a year earlier. The Toccata is famously extrovert but the Romanza – and not in name only – seems to prefigure the slow movement of the Fifth Symphony of the following decade. Rawsthorne’s Piano Concerto No.1 dates from 1939 but was revised in 1942. Binns and Braithwaite are again the protagonists. In terms of construction this is probably the most accomplished of all the works in this set. It’s a masterly example of Rawsthorne’s late 1930s style, virtuosic but unusually thoughtful, and the place I would send newcomers to his art. Lympany and Herbert Menges (EMI CDM 5-66935-2) are tauter, but Binns and Braithwaite enjoy immeasurably better sound.

The third disc offers a quartet of composers in a variety of forms. Cyril Scott is represented by his poem for piano and orchestra, Early One Morning. It's alternately luscious and emphatic in John Ogdon and Bernard Herrmann’s uninhibited performance. John Ireland’s Legend is heard in this ideal account by Eric Parkin and Adrian Boult. E.J. Moeran’s Rhapsody – John McCabe and Braithwaite – is an old friend and a cornerstone of the British concertante repertoire on disc. William Busch’s 1937-38 Piano Concerto is what I called in my original review one of the fabled ‘new’ Lyritas; the concerto is dissonant, powerful, impressive and not always likeable.

The last disc moves forward in time from Lennox Berkeley’s 1947 Concerto (David Wilde and Braithwaite) to Hoddinott’s 1960 Concerto No.1 with Philip Fowke and Barry Wordsworth. We finally reach the 1962 Third Concerto of Malcolm Williamson, the composer taking the solo responsibilities and Leonard Dommett conducting. Berkeley is animating and full of interest and is very well played. Hoddinott’s powerful concerto is knottier, and turbulence is seldom far from the surface. Williamson plays his concerto with requisite panache and extroversion but no little poetry too.

Lyrita’s fabled recording quality is well-known. Paul Conway’s notes are new, commissioned for this set, and are thus not a précis compendium of previous booklet notes. They make for good reading. There are no reasons to avoid this set if the repertoire appeals.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

Track listing (includes links to previous reviews of individual releases)
CD 1 [77.20]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor Op.126 [37.30]
Malcolm Binns (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Gerald FINZI
Eclogue for piano and string orchestra Op.10 [10.33]
Peter Katin (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Dynamic Triptych for Piano and Orchestra Op.88 [29.14]
Howard Shelley (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley

CD 2 [75.23]
Phantasm – Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra [27.24]
Peter Wallfisch (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
Piano Concerto in C [27.42]
Howard Shelley (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Piano Concerto No.1 [20.12]
Malcolm Binns (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite

CD 3 [75.12]
Early One Morning – Poem for Piano and Orchestra [14.48]
John Ogdon (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann
Legend for Piano and Orchestra [12.44]
Eric Parkin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
William BUSCH
Piano Concerto [28.22]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Rhapsody in F sharp for Piano and Orchestra [19.15]
John McCabe (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite

CD 4 [77.34]
Piano Concerto in B flat Op.29 [26.11]
David Wilde (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
Piano Concerto No.1 Op.19 [19.50]
Philip Fowke (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
Piano Concerto No.3 in E flat ** (1962) [32:19]
Malcolm Williamson (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Dommett