Bryan Northcott
BBC Music Magazine
May 2014
PERFORMANCE
RECORDING

The late Malcolm Williamson may have had his unruly side, but he was vastly and variously gifted; it is high time the best of his teeming output was revalued. Here we have all four of his numbered piano concertos—No 4 is given its first airing on CD—plus the two-piano Concerto in A minor and the Sinfonia Concertante with its piano obbligato, collected together for the first time. Piers Lane is the tireless soloist, crisply percussive or touchingly lyrical as required, and Howard Shelley conducts with efficiency and conviction. The only qualification is the recorded sound in which the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is set back from the piano in a resonant ambience that tends to blur details in the louder tuttis.

At the back of his mind, Williamson seems to have had a concise neo-Baroque model of concerto form comprising a motoric toccata-like first movement, a formalistic slow middle movement, and a fancy-free fast finale. Yet each of these six works is distinct in character and feeling: the brittle, Poulenc-like frivolity of the opening toccata of Concerto No 2 is utterly different from the grimly chugging first movement of the two-piano Concerto; elsewhere, 12-tone permutations jostle with naughty tunes of a showbiz insouciance.

And Concerto No 3 breaks the mould with an extra movement that sets out daintily yet soon turns menacingly obsessive. Here Lane is up against Williamson’s own formidable pianism in the slightly better balanced Lyrita recording from 1975. Still, this is a valuable new collection. And now, please, can we have recordings of the jungle-like Second Symphony and the grandly panoramic Sixth?