Beach: Piano Concerto; Gaelic Symphony

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beach
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Gaelic Symphony
PERFORMER: Alan Feinberg (piano); Nashville SO/ Kenneth Schermerhorn
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559139
Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony was first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896: written in the wake of Dvorák’s New World, it uses several traditional Irish melodies, but combines them effectively with original material in four strongly shaped and imaginatively orchestrated movements. The Piano Concerto followed four years later, with Beach herself as soloist: again it is Dvorák-like in language and full of good tunes, but it adds to the mix the brilliant figuration of the 19th-century virtuoso concerto, and its four-movement layout is anything but routine. Together, the two works constitute an impressive achievement for a self-taught composer in her late twenties and early thirties, and the fact that she never returned to either genre in the remaining four decades of her life represents a real lost opportunity.

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The performances here are clear and coherent, with excellent solo playing in the Concerto and first-rate contributions from the woodwind and string principals. Melodies and climaxes occasionally seem a little stolid and lacking in Romantic abandon; the piano sound in the Concerto, somewhat brittle and too much in the foreground, doesn’t help. But the coupling of these two major works on one bargain-price disc makes for a strong recommendation. Anthony Burton