'Robert Threlfall's notes make a good case for regarding the three-movement original as having a greater validity, and this splendid first recording bears him out … Piers Lane, an eloquent advocate' (BBC Music Magazine)
'This Hyperion newcomer possesses many virtues. Piers Lane responds with nimble sensitivity, David Lloyd-Jones secures a tidy response from the Ulster Orchestra and the performance as a whole has a sparkle, eagerness and snap that are most refreshing' (Gramophone)
'Those who are familiar with (and those who have dismissed) Delius's Piano Concerto in the 1907 revision should make the acquaintance of the original version without more ado' (International Record Review)
'Lane makes a convincing case for the piece, and his performance is paired with an equally sparky one of John Ireland's concerto. His punchy abrasiveness undercuts the work's more fey moments, and gives it an almost neoclassical edge' (The Guardian)
'this first recording of the original version from 1904 reveals a work stamped with far more rhapsodic gusto and genuine heartache than the composer's misguided revisions suggest. Lane's performance is very enjoyable; the recording does the players proud' (The Times)
'Delius's Piano Concerto gets strong advocacy from Lane, Lloyd-Jones and the Ulster Orchestra. The two Ireland works, Legend and the Piano Concerto, make ideal companions on this highly attractive, collectable disc' (Sunday Times)
'it is interesting to hear Delius in a robust frame of mind, and the performance itself is one of great allure and power' (The Daily Telegraph)
'Lane gives engagingly virtuoso, extrovert and affectionate performances throughout' (Classic FM Magazine)
'Throughout, Piers Lane is sympathetic, sensitive and a virtuoso, and the support from David Lloyd-Jones and the Ulster Orchestra is exact. The vivid recording presents an exemplary balance between piano and orchestra' (Fanfare, USA)
Allegro ma non troppo [10'58]
Maestoso con moto moderato [11'32]
Hyperion’s record of the month for January presents, for the first time, the original version of Delius’s Piano Concerto. Two years after completing this work in 1904, Delius recast it, rejecting the third movement and reorganizing other material. Perhaps thinking that the solo part wasn’t sufficiently pianistic, Delius also consulted a friend, the Busoni pupil Theodor Szántó, who rewrote the piano part in virtuoso style (with Delius’s ultimate approval). It is the Szántó version that has, until now, always been performed. With Delius’s original, characteristically refined orchestration also restored (from the orchestral parts that survive from the first performance in 1904), we can now hear this work as the composer envisaged before the involvement of another hand. The result is closer to what we think of as quintessential Delius. Piers Lane and David Lloyd-Jones form an ideal partnership, and the result is a revelation.
John Ireland’s Piano Concerto, written in 1930, was seen at the time as a British response to Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, and it has additional resonances of Ravel and Gershwin. The work was an immediate success and became the pre-eminent British piano concerto, performed by Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, Eileen Joyce, Gina Bachauer and Artur Rubinstein. Encouraged by its success Ireland planned to write a second concerto, but he only completed one movement, the Legend, in 1933. Once more Piers Lane and the Ulster musicians bring an engaging energy and flair to this exciting music.
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Frederick Delius and Edvard Grieg first met in Leipzig in 1887. They at once became close friends and Grieg gave Delius a copy of his Piano Concerto in A minor later that year, as a Christmas present. During his first visit to England in 1888 Grieg played his Concerto at a Philharmonic Society concert in London, ‘with great success’ according to Delius, who was present. It may well be that the warm reception of his friend’s work caused Delius to consider a composition of his own in similar form; a number of sketches and drafts, all unfinished but all planned for piano and orchestra, were made by him in the immediately ensuing years. Not until 1897, however, did he complete the score of a Fantasy for orchestra and pianoforte (in C minor), part of which was written during one of his visits to Florida and which in basic thematic material and in formal construction – namely, a Lisztian three-in-one structure – reveals the earliest form of his own Piano Concerto. (The middle section of this score shares with Grieg’s slow movement the indirectly related key of D flat major.)
The work appears never to have been played at a public concert in the form it then took, although Delius is known to have played it through with Busoni on two pianos early in 1898. However, a very extensive rewriting subsequently took place, producing a three-movement Piano Concerto in C minor which was first performed in Elberfeld on 24 October 1904 by Julius Buths, conducted by Hans Haym (a performance in Berlin by Busoni in 1902 failed to materialize). Delius’s reasons for such a major recasting of the score are not known, but as a result the first section became a self-contained movement in roughly conventional two-subject form and balance of keys. The D flat section took its place as an independent slow movement, while a new finale was composed on almost entirely fresh material. It is this form of the work – which has been reconstructed from the orchestral parts used in 1904 (and such portions of the full score as have survived) – that is presented on this premier recording.
Before discussing this three-movement work in any further detail, its later history should be outlined. Despite several not unsuccessful performances in Germany Delius apparently remained unsatisfied with his score, and two years later another recasting of the whole piece took place. The third movement was completely rejected and the D flat intermezzo was restored to its earlier place between the development and reprise of the first movement’s material, where the later, improved sequence of keys from the 1904 version was retained. Also Delius consulted another pianist friend, Theodor Szántó (a pupil of Busoni) concerning the layout of the solo part; as a consequence the whole piano part was rewritten in virtuoso style by Szántó (with Delius’s ultimate approval), and somewhat meretricious development and coda sections were added. Although this revised version, first played in London by Szántó in October 1907, was attractive enough to make a good impression then and for some time after, many people feel that Delius’s characteristic harmony and orchestration are found to better advantage in his three later concertos – the Double Concerto and the concertos for violin and for cello. The Piano Concerto appears to have suffered accordingly, maybe partly as a result of its complicated history and partly because of its uncharacteristic writing for the soloist by another hand.
The six-bar orchestral theme which opens the Allegro ma non troppo remained essentially unaltered through all the score’s subsequent adventures. This and the second theme (which is first presented in dialogue between strings and brass, but then expounded at length by the solo piano) form the basic material for the sonata-style first movement. Recent research has concluded that both themes show the influence of the Afro-American sounds which influenced Delius so much during his Florida sojourns. The structure of the movement and its balance of tonalities follow Classical precedent, thus making it longer than in the final version (which omits the reprise). Examples of Delius’s later characteristic harmonies are hardly to be expected, but the elaborate, and not ineffective, piano part is more ambitious than anything found elsewhere in his work, where song accompaniment and partnership with the solo violin or cello define most of his keyboard music.
The central Largo movement only differs in structure from the familiar later version inasmuch as it is self-contained, being rounded off with a simple cadence (which includes a Griegian horn solo) instead of merging into the closing section. Delius’s own piano part here is very grateful, quite pianistic and sonorous, without in any way anticipating the elaborate Chopinesque chromatics later substituted by Szántó. The opening melody, which defines the new key of D flat major, forms the basis of the whole movement.
The third movement – Maestoso con moto moderato – confronts us with a whole mass of material rejected by Delius from his revised version and, with one exception referred to below, never subsequently refashioned by him. It commences in the unusual 5/4 time, with severe C minor themes in the orchestra supported by a massive, mainly chordal, solo part. Roles are shortly exchanged and at the change to 4/4 time, Molto tranquillo, the orchestra first presents a section in the relative major which is perhaps more typical of the mature Delius than anything else in the whole concerto. The soloist takes over this material and quickly builds up to a climax, at which fragments of the first theme merge with a recall of the second theme of the opening movement; a short orchestral tutti clinches the argument and leads directly into the reprise of the beginning of the movement. After this has run its course as before, the contrasting section follows, now in the tonic major key and with its flexible chording given to the soloist. A brief return of that clinching orchestral tutti falters on a diminished seventh chord, and the pianist begins a long and rhapsodic cadenza ad libitum, quasi una improvisazione which is based almost entirely on a reverie-like recall of the movement’s opening theme. (In one of his unpredictable moves Delius transferred the beginning of this cadenza, which was itself taken over almost unaltered from the 1897 Fantasy, to his Violin Concerto of 1916.) The orchestra joins in towards the end and quickly returns to that confident mood which had been relaxed during the soloist’s extemporization. The second theme of the first movement returns in the brass, and a grand tutti in Delius’s finest orchestral splendour sets its seal on the whole work with such finality that one is only left to regret the brilliant, but far less convincing, ending substituted in the Delius–Szántó collaboration a few years later.
Delius’s writing for the orchestra in this original version is characteristically poetic and refined, and at times dangerously restrained in view of the percussive nature of the solo part. Since 1951 all performances and recordings of the Delius–Szántó version have been given in the edition by Sir Thomas Beecham, who made extensive adjustments to the dynamics and phrasing, further amplifying Delius’s already fuller orchestration.
John Ireland was born at Bowdon, Cheshire, some ten miles from Manchester; his little-used middle name, Nicholson, was his mother’s maiden name. Ireland was his parents’ fifth and last child, his father seventy years old and his mother forty when he was born. His mother died in 1893 when he was fourteen, his father the following year. Ireland’s parents were a notably literary and intellectual union, his father, Alexander Ireland, running the ultimately unsuccessful competitor to the Manchester Guardian, the Manchester Examiner. Both parents were authors and among others had known and written books on the Carlyles, Thomas and Jane Welsh.
Ireland remembered his childhood as an unhappy one, being bullied by his older siblings, though his mother’s musicality and his sisters’ playing the piano introduced him to music. He went to the Royal College of Music in London in September 1893, following his sister Ethel who had been at the Royal Academy of Music since 1891, but almost immediately their mother died and Ireland’s life became focused on London. Ireland did not leave the RCM until 1901. In addition to an allowance strictly meted out by his guardian until his majority, to keep body and soul together he worked as a freelance musician; thus Ireland developed a portfolio of paid work, as church organist, teacher and accompanist, and he prepared the piano reduction of the published score of Cecil Forsyth’s Viola Concerto for publication by Schott in 1904.
Ireland’s earliest accepted orchestral work was the prelude The Forgotten Rite, really a tone poem, first heard in a Promenade concert in September 1917. It was followed by the tone poem Mai-Dun in 1921, but the 1920s were really devoted to piano music and songs. Thus when he produced his Piano Concerto on 2 October 1930 at the Proms at the age of fifty-one he was seen as a miniaturist taking a late significant step forward. Over the next fifteen years Ireland wrote the handful of orchestral works by which he is remembered – including A London Overture and the overture Satyricon, film music for The Overlanders and the choral setting These Things Shall Be.
Both of Ireland’s works for piano and orchestra were written for his pupil and protégée the young pianist Helen Perkin (1909–1996), who gave their first performances. Perkin had earlier played Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto at the Royal College of Music, and it seems reasonable to assume that Ireland, a senior figure at the RCM, would have been present, noting elements of the concerto (which had been first heard in London in 1922) and his unknown young protégée’s pianism.
We may never fully understand Ireland’s sexuality, but a brief consideration is central to both of his works on this CD. Unfortunately Ireland’s last companion, Norah Kirby, took it upon herself to destroy any of Ireland’s papers that might reveal him in a less than saint-like light. So we have very little to go on, but on close inspection his music is characterized by a complex web of self-referencing motifs associated with words in his songs, and with his piano music. A typical example which occurs in the Legend is described below. What we do know is that on 17 December 1926, at the age of forty-seven Ireland married a seventeen-year-old pupil, Dorothy Phillips, but we are told had he regretted it immediately after the ceremony and never consummated the marriage, which was dissolved nine months later.
In 1928 he began to be attracted to a brilliant young piano student at the RCM, Helen Perkin, then nineteen, and he not only wrote this Piano Concerto for her but used his influence to ensure she was given the premiere at a Queen’s Hall Promenade Concert, an event which put them both on the map. For a while she was Ireland’s constant companion, but she quickly outgrew his influence and after studying in Europe in 1932 and championing music other than his, she married an architect in 1934, after which her promising career seemed to lose impetus.
The concerto was written in the spring and summer of 1930 and it was seen at the time as a British response to Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, and was thought terribly modern for its use of fibre dance band mutes by the trumpets. Advance publicity for the concerto harped on the dance band connection, possibly suggesting Ireland to be another Gershwin, and it attracted a large audience. To us apparent resonances of Ravel’s G major concerto merely record something that was in the air, for the Ravel had not then been completed and would not be heard in London for another eighteen months.
Although Ireland’s concerto is customarily described as being in three movements, only two are marked in the score, the music moving straight on from the slow movement into what is de facto the high spirited finale, Allegretto giocoso. The first movement opens with a ten-bar reflective orchestral introduction, the theme on strings perhaps an echo of the plainsong he would have known in church, and the magical distant horns at the fourth bar seeming to be heralding some far-off world coming slowly into view. This forms a sort of motto, becoming a resource for later invention and is incorporated into the first main theme in the piano solo that follows. It is entirely characteristic of Ireland that when the piano joins, instead of fiery figurations he gives us what is to all intents and purposes the opening of one of his evocative piano miniatures. However he also knows when to stop, and the music accelerates to the catchy faster theme first presented on trumpet and clarinets which is heard many times during the movement. The concerto is notable for the way Ireland links extended passages of unaccompanied piano with orchestral colour and only uses the full orchestra at the climaxes.
A slow version of the second theme of the first movement opens the second movement and is followed, as in the first, by a solo passage that could be one of Ireland’s evocative miniatures. It would not be too fanciful to describe this movement, with its yearning falling sevenths in the strings, as a love song. Eventually a side drum tattoo breaks the reverie and with a miniature cadenza leads into the energetic finale. To a British audience at the time the use of Chinese block to rap out the rhythm must have seemed cutting-edge. Here the slower second subject includes one of Ireland’s motivic references, in this case a figure of four semiquavers quoted from Spring will not wait and We’ll to the woods no more, both works dedicated to Arthur Miller, an earlier constant companion. Themes from the earlier movements return, and with the second the solo violin sings a regretful counter-melody. This tune is said to be from a student string quartet written by Helen Perkin, but the allusion to his pianist seems to have been more elusive, and wherever it appears he thoroughly disguised it.
The work was an immediate success, and for forty years it was the pre-eminent British piano concerto played by the leading players of the day, notably Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany and Eileen Joyce as well as Gina Bachauer and Artur Rubinstein.
In 1932 Ireland was sufficiently confident that he could produce a second piano concerto that he wrote to Adrian Boult and the BBC announcing it was well under way and seeking a date in the following season. However, in the event, Ireland was never able to deliver a work on the scale suggested by his proposal, and when finished (8 December 1933) the one-movement Legend immediately went to a BBC play-through on 14 December; the first performance took place at Queen’s Hall on 12 January 1934 – the sixth and final concert of the BBC’s festival of new British music. The soloist was Helen Perkin with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult.
Although the music clearly has a narrative impulse, the notes for the first performance gave no clue what that programme might be, the writer proposing ‘that it suggests thoughts of remote things’. The orchestra is without trumpets, but the horns are extensively used. The music is dedicated to the mystical author Arthur Machen, whose house in old Amersham Ireland would occasionally visit; Machen is the clue to its programme.
The outer sections are reported to be an evocation of Sussex Hill in the Downs between Storrington and Angmering. Ireland then had a country base at Ashington and his friend Arnold Bax would later move to Storrington; the critic and composer Cecil Gray also lived nearby, as did the broadcaster Julian Herbage. Herbage remembered Ireland’s sympathetic response to the Neolithic associations of the place, which was once also a medieval leper colony and church. Another literary friend, Jocelyn Brooke, tells that one day Ireland was walking on the Downs and sat down in the sun to eat his packed lunch. He reported looking up and seeing some children dancing in front of him. Momentary annoyance passed as he realized they were archaically dressed and played in silence. He looked away and they vanished. He wrote to Machen recounting his experience and received just a postcard in reply: ‘So you’ve seen them too.’ The eerie dancing middle section of the Legend introduced by Ireland’s heralds of mystical vision, the horns, evokes this experience. The ending, in which the orchestra remotely and coldly recalls the opening, has the character of an epilogue, the horn call now heard from afar on cor anglais, and a quiet pulsing drumbeat evokes the passing of the centuries.
Lewis Foreman © 2006
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The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Żeleński
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