Constant Lambert—pioneering ballet composer, maverick author and lover of cats—was composing in those heady days between the two wars when English artistic optimism was at a peak. The first English composer to have a work taken up by Diaghilev, his Romeo and Juliet was premiered by the Russian master in Monte Carlo. The story presents elements from the familiar Shakespearean story within the context of rehearsals for a ballet of the same, this convolution itself being typical of Lambert’s desire to avoid the obvious.
The Piano Concerto recorded here dates from 1924 (the 1931 concerto is recorded on Hyperion CDA66754) but had to wait until 1988 before being given its first performance. Then, as now, the soloist was Jonathan Plowright.
Three shorter works complete the programme: Prize Fight responds to the ludicrous musical confections by French contemporaries Satie, Poulenc and Milhaud (Lambert has the boxing ring collapse following a ‘pitch invasion’); The Bird Actors is a resurrected section from the original score for Romeo and Juliet; and Elegiac Blues is a jazz-inflected homage to Lambert’s idol Florence Mills who had so scandalized London ‘polite society’ with her touring shows in the 1920s.