Overture Street Corner
Piano Concerto No.1
Piano Concerto No.2
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir John Pritchard [Symphonic Studies; Street Corner]
Malcolm Binns (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording dates and locations not advised in Lyritas annotation; copyright dates are 1977 and 1979
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.255
Duration: 77 minutes
Reviewed: April 2007
No doubt about the highlight here. Ive long cherished Sir John Pritchards splendid 1975 recording of Alan Rawsthornes tremendously compelling Symphonic Studies (arguably his masterpiece and for my money one of the most exhilarating achievements in British music from the first half of the last century) and am now delighted to be able to report that it re-emerges on CD in demonstration-worthy fashion, with all the lustre and glow present on the original LP (SRCS 90) mercifully intact. The London Philharmonic responds with unstinting enthusiasm under Pritchards spirited, clear-sighted lead and the same partnership also give us a notably alert yet appropriately boisterous Street Corner Overture (commissioned in 1944 by ENSA, the Armys entertainment organisation).
As for the two piano concertos, Malcolm Binnss late-1970s collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Braithwaite faces tough budget-priced competition from Geoffrey Tozer (Chandos) and Peter Donohoe (Naxos); nor should any inquisitive collector miss hearing the world premiere recordings of No.1 with Lympany and Menges (in early stereo from May 1956 on EMI British Composers, now deleted but well worth tracking down) and its successor with Curzon and Sargent (Decca Original Masters). All the same, no one coming to either work for the first time through these personable, thoughtful (No.2 particularly so) and truthfully engineered Lyrita versions would be left in any doubt as to their resourcefulness, impeccable craft and strong character.
The First Concerto dates from 1939. Originally scored for piano, strings and percussion, Rawsthorne revised it for full orchestra three years later. Its a most invigorating piece, permeated by a tangy, constantly probing harmonic sense, the solo writing by turns tempestuous, glitteringly delicate and always gratefully idiomatic (the gravely beautiful central Chaconne which might have moved on a fraction more here is especially eloquent).
Commissioned by the Arts Council for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the altogether more traditional, lyrical and big-hearted Second (with its subtle allusions to Brahmss mighty B flat Concerto) has all the potential for widespread appeal, containing more than a sprinkling of fetching melody in both outer movements (the jaunty finale with its distinctly Latin-American feel is a real crowd-pleaser), in addition to an Adagio semplice slow movement of limpid, bitter-sweet charm (launched by some ravishing woodwind writing which uncannily anticipates the start of the sultry central Lento assai of Waltons Second Symphony).
With its judicious re-mastering, this substantial collection deserves a warm welcome and handily supplements Lyritas excellent earlier anthology containing Rawsthornes three symphonies (SRCD.291).