Movement 1: Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Largo
Movement 3: Maestoso con moto moderato
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.
from notes by Robert Threlfall © 2006