ALBUM TITLE: Gardner
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 1; Midsummer Ale
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570406
Cheeky, chipper, bubblingly orchestrated, Midsummer Ale suggests bracketing Mancunian John Gardner among superior exponents of that inimitably British genre ‘Light Music’. The Piano Concerto (1957) is a different proposition, as its swirling, rebarbative opening Allegro con brio immediately establishes. Peter Donohoe unravels the glittering, chromatic roulades in the piano part with élan and impressive fluency.
The central ‘Tema con Variazioni’ has a nocturnal feel about it, with bluesy fleckings and intriguingly suspended brass and woodwind contributions. The Rondo finale meanders slightly, not quite clinching the issues raised by the movements preceding it. Perhaps that’s why this Concerto has been neglected.
The Symphony (from ten years earlier) is a darker piece, with thick, chunky slabs of granitic orchestration jutting from the enigmatic landscape of the opening Lento e Grave. The best music is in the unquiet, agitated cogitations of the slow movement, which seems clearly marked by the grimness of the wartime experience. These fine, dedicated performances are undoubtedly a fitting gift to the composer on his 90th birthday.