Martin Yates Conducts Concertos for Two Pianos by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Performed by Leon McCawley, John Lenehan (piano) and the RSNO.

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ralph Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Dutton Epoch
ALBUM TITLE: Ralph Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Concerto for Two Pianos; A London Symphony (1920 version)
PERFORMER: Leon McCawley, John Lenehan (piano); RSNO/Martin Yates
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7322 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Did Vaughan Williams help his bracing Piano Concerto, finished in 1931, by prompting a later overhaul, splitting its single piano part into two? Contrary evidence is given by this spirited account of the 1946 two-piano version, initially prepared (by Joseph Cooper, with the composer’s aid) for the popular duettists Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick. At times we miss the focused punch of one piano’s combat with the orchestra, for all Leon McCawley and John Lenehan’s dexterity. Yet 20 fingers certainly bring a heightened percussive charge in the final section’s ‘fuga chromatica’. Either way, it remains an idiosyncratic and fruitful work, completed on Symphony No. 4’s turbulent doorstep, though with a beautifully becalmed central romanza.

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Martin Yates and the Scottish National Orchestra sound equally at home in the atmospheric panorama of A London Symphony. In 2001 Richard Hickox famously recorded the original 1913 score, just over an hour long; here we have the first digital account of the shorter edition published in 1920, before the composer snipped out even more bars in the mid 1930s. The hushed and quivering lento bars Bernard Herrmann famously grieved over are back in place. The epilogue, too, has an extra shot of poetry, though mitigated by the orchestra’s usual Glasgow acoustic – strong on horizontal expanse, rather weak on depth and warmth. Geoff Brown