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British piano SRCD407
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British Piano Concertos
John Addison (1920-1998)
Wellington Suite (1959)
Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960)
Concertino for piano and orchestra (1927)
Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
Concertino for piano and string orchestra (1949)
Humphrey Searle (1915-1982)
Concertante for piano, percussion and strings, Op.24 (1954)
Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)
Nature’s Song, tone poem for orchestra, organ and piano (1920)
Geoffrey Bush (1920-1998)
A Little Concerto on themes of Thomas Arne, for piano and strings (1939)
Simon Callaghan (piano)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Martyn Brabbins
rec. June 2021, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff
LYRITA SRCD.407 [69]

Lyrita already has a disc called ‘British Piano Concertos’ in its catalogue, which was culled from existing commercial material – such things as Malcolm Binns’ recording of Rawsthorne’s First Concerto, Howard Shelley’s recording of Vaughan Williams’ Piano Concerto in C – and which all add up to a meaty 4-CD box.

This new-minted disc contains first ever recordings of everything bar Arthur Benjamin’s Concertino of 1927 and therein lies a slight question of nomenclature. I don’t think we need spend too much time on this but a quarter of an hour concertino doth not a concerto make. And I’m sure that ‘British Piano Concertinos’ has a less weighty ring to it than ‘Concertos’. Once past this, I have nothing but praise for Simon Callaghan, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, their conductor Martyn Brabbins and the Lyrita engineering in the Hoddinott Hall.

John Addison’s genial five movement Wellington Suite kicks us off with a modestly scored charmer with certain Arnoldian features in the piano writing, a droll Allegro vivace, and an increasingly turbulent waltz. Benjamin’s Concertino was recorded by Lamar Crowson, with the composer conducting. It was composed in the excited wake of Rhapsody in Blue. There are strong hints of the influence as indeed there are of the dance band strain in British music of the time, not least in the saxophonic pastoral blues of the slow movement, played here by Gerard McChrystal. The scampering piano in the Scherzo shows Benjamin exercising his muscular chops though the finale is spry and none-too aggressive.

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Concertino from twenty plus years later shows a composer confident in her integrated musical language. The slow movement is unusually expressive, though without undue melodrama, and shows how the pocket charm of a concertino seems to have released her from the burdens of a large-scale scheme. By contrast Humphrey Searle’s four-minute Concertante is a student commission of 1954 and wastes no time introducing itself, rather plunging in with multi-movement alacrity. The solo piano and percussion make a strong appearance in what amounts to four 12-tone minutes.

At twice that length, Edmund Rubbra’s Nature’s Song, composed in 1920, when he was 19 and studying with Holst, has been reconstructed by Callaghan. This is a tone poem, folkloric in the wind writing, neatly rhapsodic and with some exceptionally fine hushed passages from around the three-minute mark. The elegant filigree was designed for Rubbra to play, alongside some rather more pounding Holstian material. A Little Concerto on themes of Thomas Arne is the last work, written by that great craftsman Geoffrey Bush. The first movement bears the biggest burdens in terms of elegance and refinement and sets the tone for what’s to come; genial warmth, elegantly orchestrated.

As noted, the performances are fine, the orchestral burdens none too demanding, and the solo playing balances drama and delight.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Gary Higginson ~ Hubert Culot

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