Danny Driver performs Piano Concertos by Beach, Chaminade and Howell

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COMPOSERS: Beach,Chaminade,Howell
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Beach, Chaminade, Howell
WORKS: Beach: Piano Concerto, Op. 45; Chaminade: Concertstück; Howell: Piano Concerto in D minor
PERFORMER: Danny Driver (piano); BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Rebecca Miller
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68130

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Hyperion’s ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ series usually structures programmes by nationality or period; but volume 70 is selected by gender, consisting of works by three female pianist-composers. Pick of the bunch is the Concerto by Amy Beach (see ‘Composer of the Month’, page 64), which she premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1900. It’s a big, ambitious piece in four movements, with a perpetual-movement scherzo before the deeply felt slow movement. It handles its Dvoπák-like idiom with confidence and individuality, and the virtuoso piano writing is tremendously effective. Danny Driver is a highly accomplished soloist, if occasionally lacking in Romantic flexibility; the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Rebecca Miller makes a telling contribution, though recorded a little distantly at the cost of some detail.

The other two, single-movement works suffer from a discrepancy between their scale and their principal material. Cécile Chaminade’s 1888 Concertstück sets out with dramatic tremolando strings and a heroic horn call, recalling Wagner’s Flying Dutchman; while this theme returns frequently, it doesn’t sit easily in the work alongside pianistic glitter, sentimental melodies and balletic dances. The 1923 Concerto by the Birmingham-born Dorothy Howell similarly fails to live up to its opening bold brass statement; but there’s some fine solo writing and a lovely, languishing slow episode. It would be well worth an occasional concert-hall hearing. But it’s the Beach that really deserves a place in the repertoire: how about a Proms performance, for a start?

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Anthony Burton