Michael Round
International Piano
May 2014

Australian-born but UK-domiciled Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) was once the most commissioned composer of his time, with a catalogue of over 120 works. He is little played now and few discs devoted to his music seem readily available either here or down under. This two-disc set from Hyperion makes handsome amends in collating all his piano concertos, composed between 1957 and 1994.

The solo parts demand virtuosity and energy in equal measure, and Piers Lane sparkles inexhaustibly. Composer influences abound: Concerto No 1 alone may remind you of Bartók, Prokofiev, Lutosławski, Britten and the neo-classical Stravinsky, while Messiaen hovers over the two-piano concerto with strings. (Williamson was a virtuoso pianist: his 1966/67 BBC recording of Messiaen’s Visions de l'amen with fellow composer Richard Rodney Bennett is a historical treasure that ought, if it still exists, to be released on CD.) A knack for uninhibited and memorable tunes recalls Malcolm Arnold. The highly regarded Third Concerto (rival CDs exist) changes style possibly too widely to cohere but is always compulsively listenable, as is the whole set.

Williamson was particularly good at catchy finales, while his slow movements exude total, positively post-coital calm. Trumpets shine, both as joint soloists in the Sinfonia concertante and elsewhere; other orchestral playing is accomplished but occasionally deadpan. The recording is handsome; left-right separation between soloists in the two-piano concerto is very fair, given that co-soloist Howard Shelley also directed the orchestra and presumably had to be centrally placed. An absorbing and highly entertaining experience.