For the seventieth issue in Hyperion’s long-running series of Romantic Piano Concertos, it is appropriate that seventy intriguing minutes await the listener.
This release is bookended by one-movement works for piano and orchestra. The Concerto by Birmingham-born Dorothy Howell (1898-1982) was completed in 1923 and had its premiere that year at the Proms, the composer as soloist with Sir Henry Wood conducting. It’s an attractive piece, heroic, tuneful and diverse, especially likeable in the slower, dreamy, section. Closing the disc is Parisian Cécile Chaminade’s Concertstück (1888). This too has its heroic aspects, also featuring horns. Its exotic features anticipate Saint-Saëns’s ‘Egyptian’ Concerto, and overall it is colourful, capricious and charming. Like the Howell, the music of Chaminade (1857-1944) has the capacity to paint pictures, and this Concertstück is a delightful discovery.
The centrepiece is Amy Beach’s Concerto, similarly in C-sharp minor, a four-movement creation, the seventeen-minute first movement as long as the remaining three put together. Beach also died in 1944. She was born in 1867 in Henniker, New England as Amy Cheney; almost instantly she was a musical prodigy and very inquisitive about the subject. In 1885, when young Amy married a Boston doctor, the much-older Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, for her further appearances as a pianist and her subsequent compositions she was billed as “Mrs H. H. A. Beach”.
The Concerto’s first appearance, courtesy of the composer, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was in 1900. It’s an ambitious piece. If the first movement’s length is not quite equal to its content, then the second-movement is attractively light, airy and melodious, and, by contrast, the following Largo is sad and soulful, resigned, to which the Finale (Allegro con scioltezza) makes for the most-joyous of contrasts, dancing amiably (Amyiably!) and building to a resolute conclusion with timpani strokes straight out of the way Schumann’s Second Symphony finishes.
No praise is too high for the achievement of Danny Driver, for he plays with his customary virtuosity, insight and dynamism, ranging from bravura to delicate with much in between, colourful and dedicated playing that brings these little-known scores to life in the most advantageous way. He is backed to the hilt by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Rebecca Miller (‘Mrs D. Driver’) and further enhanced by excellent recorded sound and informative presentation.