CD Review

Some neglected pathways to British music


© Chris Green, December 2014


Over decades I have become immersed in British music and, of course, there are many works that I do not know but I thought that I was more familiar with major orchestral works than was proved to be the case. It took a four-disc set of British Piano Concertos to emphasise that really I did not know the territory. The set is a collection from Lyrita recordings ranging in date from 1975 to 2007.
Lyrita Recordings have a proud record in British recording history as a label where little or no compromise was made about the quality of the recordings or the artists engaged. The sleeve notes were always written by those who knew the composer concerned in a way that added something for the listener, and the repertoire chosen carefully.
The company found itself in some difficulties during the latter part of the 1990s if memory serves me correctly, and then the recordings re-emerged and distributed by the enterprising Nimbus organisation. Independent and proud. So, here we have back in the catalogue a collection of 13 British Piano Concertos from composers as diverse as Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) to those more recently departed such as Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) and Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008) (Lyrita SRCD2345).
I suppose if one was being particular one would have to say that Williamson was Australian although he became Master of the Queen's Musick, and Stanford was Irish, but born during a time when Ireland was still part of Great Britain. Whatever, this collection reveals some interesting works such as Stanford's Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor. It may share the same numbering and key as another concerto by a certain Russian, but there the similarity ends because I had never heard the concerto by Stanford, written a few years after that by Rachmaninov. Here Malcolm Binns plays the passionate and brilliant work with first-rate accompaniment by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite.
If one thought that after Rachmaninov there was little more to say for the Piano Concerto, then other composers proved that assumption wrong. Frank Bridge (Britten's teacher) turned to the title Phantasm -Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra for his 1931 work, but it is still constructed in the traditional three movement form. Peter Wallfisch is the soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra again with conductor, Nicholas Braithwaite.
By now I am sure you have got the message: there is so much to enjoy in this box set, that to single out one or another work is almost impossible. The good news is that there is a companion volume dedicated to British String Concertos (Lyrita SRCD 2346), and that is every bit as good.