WORKS: Piano Concerto; Symphony in One Movement
PERFORMER: Peter Serkin (piano)London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen; BBC Scottish SO/Richard Bernas
CATALOGUE NO: D023 DDD
Alexander Goehr’s relationship to the Austro-German heritage is elegantly demonstrated by this intelligent coupling. The results, as so often, are sometimes more admirable than lovable. I can find little to savour in the 1972 Piano Concerto beyond a gritted-teeth determination to bring back sonata form. The material seems inadequate for the task, the structural devices artificially imposed; the dramatic potential inherent in the concerto form is scarcely tapped.
Maybe Goehr isn’t a truly symphonic kind of composer at all; he’s certainly never seemed a natural one. Only three years before the Piano Concerto, when he wrote the Symphony in One Movement, he says that the ‘dualities of key and theme’ implied by the word ‘sonata’ were ‘not available’ to him. Despite its title, the Symphony is therefore less symphonic, and all the better for it. The whole thing turns out to be basically an interrupted set of variations on this theme; a form better suited to this composer’s fastidious invention. The work’s 35 minutes may be five, even ten, too many. But the music’s salty immediacy, less restricted by the academic desire to conform, suggests that this is the real Goehr. Keith Potter