This Good Friday release includes Grieg’s evergreen Piano Concerto (first heard in 1869) given a fresh and rewarding performance, with discretion, affection and character by Mark Bebbington and accompanied with sympathy and detail by the RPO and Jan Latham-Koenig, a cohesive reading that also gives the work’s various episodes full value, the poetic ones especially. The first-movement cadenza is compelling, so too the beauty of the Adagio, graced with mellifluous string-playing, and the Finale steps out in lively fashion, the lyrical middle section introduced by a lovely flute contribution. In short, this is a very recommendable account of this oft-played Concerto.
Delius’s twenty-five-minute Piano Concerto doesn’t get out much, which is a shame, it’s very attractive. Piers Lane is a current champion (recording both versions, one with David Lloyd-Jones, the other with Vernon Handley) and some may remember Clifford Curzon playing it at the Proms in September 1981, John Pritchard conducting. It’s good to have a new version of it from Bebbington, opting for the 1907 revision for which the dissatisfied Delius looked again at the solo part in the company of Theodor Szántó, and it was the latter that gave the second premiere (if you will) with Henry Wood wielding the baton, and is heard here in Thomas Beecham’s 1951 edition. It’s a strong piece – romantic and often magically expressed, quite filmic, and passionately demonstrative – cast in a single movement of three sections linked by cyclical motifs and key-signature relationships. Bebbington believes in every note and, like Lane (and my memory of Curzon), he reveals this to be a regrettably neglected opus: if you like the Grieg, you’ll like the Delius. Two caveats: that Somm has not inserted tracks for Delius’s second and third parts, and, in both Concertos, although the piano is realistically recorded, I wish the RPO was slightly more in the picture at times.
This release also includes novelties. The idea for a Second Piano Concerto came to Grieg in 1881 but although he lived until 1907 only one-hundred-and-fifty bars of sketches survive. Robert Matthew-Walker has made two versions of them, close on four minutes each, adding a few introductory bars and tempo markings. One is for piano and orchestra (Grieg’s folios include some indications of scoring) and the other for piano alone. Both come off well in these first recordings, the music perky, unmistakably Griegian, dancing infectiously before yielding to what might be heard as the narrative of a troll-centred forest legend, and I see no reason why the solo version should not be considered as an addition to Grieg’s collections of Lyric Pieces. Matthew-Walker (a prolific composer in his own right) has done a fine job in stitching the loose sheets together.
Of Delius’s Three Preludes (1921), each a miniature, the first is quite Impressionistic, the other two less distinctive, all three not helped by the piano’s noisy pedal action. Finally Bebbington is joined by Irene Loh for Delius’s Cuckoo in Peter Warlock’s lucid four-hand transcription (made in 1913 to the composer’s approval), which comes off surprisingly well in relation to the orchestral original thanks to this duet playing as-one and with much transporting responsiveness.