Movement 1: Allegro con maesta
Movement 2: Barcarole: Andante cantabile e con moto
Movement 3: Presto: Agitato
This work follows the traditional form of the early-Romantic virtuoso concerto, although in a way different to the works of ‘Parisian’ virtuosos such as Alkan or Thalberg. Schumann, reviewing the score in 1840, notes that ‘nothing in the entire concerto is calculated for bravura display and applause, he only cares to display the composition itself’. Nevertheless, the first and third movements provide ample opportunity for the composer-pianist to show off his technique, with flowering passagework and some brilliant figuration.
As with his other concertos, Bennett uses the lyrical capacity of the piano to its fullest, writing passages in the first movement for a single-line melody on the piano accompanied by pizzicato strings. In the recapitulation, however, this solo line is placed in counterpoint to a solo flute, which has the effect of drawing the listener further into the otherwise sparse texture. Schumann wrote that the work as a whole ‘contains an abundance of fine melodies’ and that ‘the last movement is quite humorous … but his lyric nature penetrates here also’.
The second movement we hear today is not the one originally written for the concerto. A different movement, entitled A Stroll through the Meadows, was included in the first performance of the work, an informal run-through with an orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music in London in September 1838, just prior to Bennett’s departure for Leipzig. Apparently this movement failed to totally please even then, and after playing the work privately to Mendelssohn in October he decided to replace it with a Barcarole, as revealed by his diary entry written four days after this meeting: ‘I have been writing my little Barcarolle [sic] from memory as I intend playing it in my new Concerto.’ The Barcarole was very well received, both at the first and subsequent performances, and became something of a favourite with Bennett’s audiences. It was variously arranged for piano solo, organ, and for three voices and piano (with a text entitled To a Nightingale at Mid-day).
It is, perhaps, a sorry aside to note that A Stroll through the Meadows was rejected as the slow movement to an F minor concerto not once, but twice. Bennett’s first (never published) attempt at a concerto in this key, for his prize concert at the Royal Academy in July 1836, had also included a version of the piece as the slow movement, but it was replaced on the eve of the concert by an earlier (and somewhat different) manifestation of the Barcarole.
from notes by Elizabeth French © 2007