Romantic Piano Concertos – Delius & Ireland

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto in C minor [Original Version]
Piano Concerto in E flat

Piers Lane (piano)

Ulster Orchestra
David Lloyd-Jones

Recorded on 8 & 9 March 2005 in Ulster Hall, Belfast

Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler

Reviewed: March 2006
Duration: 64 minutes

Volume 39 of Hyperion’s “The Romantic Piano Concerto” series.

Delius’s Piano Concerto has an involved history. It seems to have been prompted by hearing Grieg playing his own concerto in London in 1888. Nine years later Delius completed a single-movement, three-section Fantasy for piano and orchestra. This was then re-cast as a concerto in three separate movements, with an entirely new finale. In this form it was first heard in 1904. Still not satisfied, Delius returned to the work two years later. It reverted to its original single-movement form, with the new finale discarded, and the slow movement returned to its original place at the centre of what had become the first movement, but retaining the revised key-sequence. At the same time Delius had Busoni pupil Theodor Szántó lay out the solo part anew, with more obviously virtuoso results. This was first heard in 1907, and it is this version that has always been performed and recorded, until now.

Piers Lane, having recorded the Szántó version in 1994, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Vernon Handley (EMI Eminence 5 65742 2) has gone back to the three-movement score, reconstructed from the 1904 orchestral parts and from surviving sections of the full score. Neither version is thoroughly typical of the mature composer, though they both have some characteristic melodic or harmonic turns of phrase.

On Hyperion, the recorded balance favours the piano more and individual details of the orchestral writing stand out less clearly (the same goes for the Ireland works). But, by the same token, it does allow us to savour Lane’s more finely graded dynamics. The new performance also takes a somewhat firmer hand when it comes to carrying the music through those moments when Delius drifts off into a reverie, where the CFP tends to indulge him more. Delius completists will want both, with Lane and David Lloyd-Jones making a compelling case for the earlier score.

There is a ready comparison with the two Ireland works as well, this time from Eric Parkin, the London Philharmonic and Bryden Thomson on Chandos; their version of Legend is the bigger-boned, more extrovert of the two, matched by Chandos’s more resonant recording. There the opening horn call suggests something vast and mysterious, almost forbidding. On the Hyperion disc it is gentler, more like an invitation into an intimate space. Parkin is slower and more deliberate in the central dance episode, where Lane is lighter, finding a greater sense of fragility and phantasmagoria, which is perhaps more in keeping with the apparition of the vanishing children that is said to have prompted it.

In the concerto Lane and Lloyd-Jones create a stronger sense of forward impetus in the outer movements. In the more lyrical music, especially the central Lento espressivo, they find an element of inwardness that makes Parkin and his colleagues seem almost prosaic in comparison. There is a wit and sparkle to the finale that seems to elude the Chandos team; here Lane and Lloyd-Jones succeed in making the ending appear less perfunctory.

Honours are fairly even between the two versions of the Delius. There’s no doubt, though, that for the Ireland works, in spite of Chandos’s more vivid sound, the Hyperion disc is the one to go for.

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