Beach: Piano Concerto in C sharp minor; Piano Quintet in F sharp minor

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LABELS: Arabesque
WORKS: Piano Concerto in C sharp minor; Piano Quintet in F sharp minor
PERFORMER: Joanne Polk (piano); ECO/Paul Goodwin, Lark Quartet
This is the fourth volume in Joanne Polk’s invaluable survey of the piano literature of the late-Romantic American composer Amy Beach. The Piano Concerto, first performed 100 years ago by the composer with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is a lavish, expansive and extremely convincing work, unashamed of its own sentimentality, its harmonic language, extravagant solo part and expansive manner, recalling nothing so much as Liszt, though sometimes, as at the beginning of the second and third movements, there’s a certain New England-ish homeliness about her figurations and orchestrations. The Piano Quintet of 1905 is in essence a chamber concerto; but there’s something here of a more Gallic flavour: the fluidity of the string writing, the doubling of lines at the octave and the parallel harmonies in the first movement, for instance, sound rather Fauré-like. Polk plays with a wonderfully warm sound and with the devotion that Beach, even though not the most radical of American composers, thoroughly deserves. Paul Goodwin and the English Chamber Orchestra are mellow, flexible partners in the Concerto, while the Lark Quartet lends to the Quintet a huge variety of subtle shades as well as a gripping sense of drama. Stephen Pettitt