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Bax • Bliss • Rubbra: Piano Concertos

Piers Lane (piano); The Orchestra Now/Leon Botstein (Hyperion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
CD_CDA68297_Rubbra

Bax • Bliss • Rubbra
Rubbra: Piano Concerto in G, Op. 85; Bax: Morning Song (Maytime in Sussex); Bliss: Piano Concerto in B flat major
Piers Lane (piano); The Orchestra Now/Leon Botstein
Hyperion CDA68297   76:46 mins

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Completed in 1955 to a BBC commission, Edmund Rubbra’s Piano Concerto in G major is something special. Rubbra here turned to the sarod-playing of Ali Akbar Khan as a benchmark for his typically untypical virtuoso concerto. The serenity and strength of the piano’s opening statement stakes out the work’s territory, whose high points include the second movement’s interaction of long orchestral lines and accompanying piano chords – an obvious device, delivered with Rubbra’s trademark un-obvious mastery and expressive reach. Two expansive opening movements then necessarily commit the work to a quicker finale, yet here too the dance-like style avoids cliché; and the crowning device is the unusual placement of the soloist’s cadenza towards the end of the work, memorably drawing together material from all three movements.

For all that Bliss and Rubbra were colleagues and personal friends, Bliss’s garrulous Concerto in B flat – premiered by the great Solomon, no less, at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 – can’t help sounding rather shown up in such company. For all the music’s unanswerable fluency and panache, plus some fine and probing individual passages (as in the more sombre slow movement), the work’s 40-minute duration feels much too long for what it has to say. The early-Debussy manner of Bax’s Morning Song (Maytime in Sussex), dating from 1946, offers a pleasing if lightweight interlude. Piers Lane’s solo playing throughout is a phenomenon of tireless technical strength, always beautifully aligned to each work’s different style, and with classy orchestral support at every point.

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Malcolm Hayes