Rawsthorne: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Rawsthorne
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano); Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555959
Naxos’s valuable Rawsthorne series and its new British piano concertos project intersect fruitfully here. Rawsthorne’s two concertos are genuine virtuoso works, by a trained pianist with a real feeling for keyboard textures and figuration. The First, written in 1939 with an accompaniment of strings and percussion and rescored for full orchestra three years later, is a relatively light piece – though the final Tarantella becomes more serious when the brass declaim a Republican song of the Spanish Civil War. The Second, commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain, is a more substantial four-movement work, with a memorable opening of Prokofiev-like lyricism, and an unusually extrovert finale with echoes of calypso. Peter Donohoe plays both works with brilliance and power, but also great delicacy. Takuo Yuasa and the Ulster Orchestra are more than capable partners, and also capture well the shifting moods of Rawsthorne’s 1960 Improvisations on a theme by his contemporary, Constant Lambert.

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On a rival disc containing both concertos, Geoffrey Tozer is all but a match for Donohoe in fluent pianism, and he and Matthias Bamert adopt a more relaxed and more convincing tempo for the central Chaconne of No. 1. Moreover, whereas the Naxos recording allows the piano to obscure a good deal of important orchestral material, especially in the woodwind, the Chandos engineers achieve an excellent balance even in a more resonant acoustic. With the late Concerto for Two Pianos an ideal coupling, the Chandos is first choice. But the Naxos is certainly an attractive bargain. Anthony Burton