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Piano Concerto


When it was co-commissioned by the Bayerischer Rundfunk and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2012, Barry’s piano concerto was his first work to bear the title ‘concerto’. In anyone else’s hands the genre might have led to certain expectations: virtuosity, showmanship and lyrical splendour, perhaps. But Barry is not known for following convention and, true to form, his piano concerto is not a conventional concerto. There are the wind machines, for a start. Two giant wind machines—the kind you might find on a film set—that make up two thirds of the percussion section and which, apparently, require amplification to reach the deafening clamour that Barry’s music demands. Then there is the work’s form which, defying tradition once more, rejects the idea of a multi-movement work in favour of one giant, sprawling movement: no gaps, no delineations, no cadenzas. Neither is it even really a concerto in Barry’s mind; for him, the work is more akin to a ‘play or opera’.

If it is a piece of theatre, rather than a concerto, than there are only really two characters here: soloist and orchestra. In that sense, at least, the work has its roots in tradition. But this is not a concerto cast in black and white. Rather, Barry offers up a recourse to the antiphonal exchanges of the Baroque concerto, refracted and reinterpreted through his own unforgiving and rather brutalist lens. There is plenty of colour here but instead of the sweeping brushstrokes of romanticism, the lines blurred and muddied, Barry gives us an unforgiving cubist landscape, clean-cut and unwavering. And rather than establishing itself as a three-dimensional web of support around the soloist, the orchestra posits itself as the opposition. Throughout the whole concerto, the two barely play together at all. Instead, as in so much of Barry’s music, the score is carved into blocks, the soloist and orchestra butting up against one another in bold vertical lines. It is a conversation, but an abrasive one, the piano interjecting dense chromatic clusters in each of the orchestra’s rests, the orchestra responding with terse, unrelenting insistence. As all arguments must, this one reaches a crisis point too, with orchestra and soloist (and an orchestral piano, too, just for good measure) coming together for a cacophonous ‘Storm’ episode towards the concerto’s end. It is a blistering moment, over almost as quickly as it began, the full force of the orchestra unleashed and then spent, the conflict seemingly still unresolved.

from notes by Jo Kirkbride © 2020


Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1, 2 & 3
Studio Master: SIGCD616Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD616 disc 2 track 5

Recording date
22 May 2018
Recording venue
Barbican, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
James Mallinson
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1, 2 & 3 (SIGCD616)
    Disc 2 Track 5
    Release date: April 2020
    Download only
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