MALCOLM WILLIAMSON - Complete Piano Concertos

MALCOLM WILLIAMSON - Complete Piano Concertos - Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra - Piers Lane (Piano) - Howard Shelley (Conductor) - 2-Disc Set - 034571280110 - Released: March 2014 - Hyperion CDA68011/2

1} Piano Concerto No. 1 in A major
2} Concerto in A minor (for two pianos and string orchestra)
3} Piano Concerto No. 2 in F sharp minor (for piano and string orchestra)
4} Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major
5} Sinfonia concertante in F sharp major (for piano, three trumpets and string orchestra)
6} Piano Concerto No. 4 in D major (first recording)

Hyperion presents a rarity in their ongoing Anglo-Australian artistic collaboration: music by an Australian composer who was once at the heart of the English establishment. Malcolm Williamson was one of many Australian creative artists who relocated to Britain in the mid-twentieth century. Within a decade of settling in London he had established a reputation as one of the most gifted and prolific composers of his generation. However today, he is almost forgotten and his music virtually never performed. This set of his complete works for piano and orchestra is therefore an important document as well as a compendium of deeply appealing music. {Hyperion Records}

Hyperion Records could just as well have included this new recording of the Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra by Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) into their excellent and ongoing Romantic Piano Concerto series (listed here), but I assume that they must have felt, and quite rightly so, that this was an important enough release to promote on its own, and that his music is, stylistically anyway, too modern to get slapped with a "romantic" label. Although in many segments throughout these works, the highly-charged emotional content within the music, often rivals if not surpasses some of the most opulent moments from Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky.

By focusing most of my attention on the Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major dating from 1962, about half way through his career, and in my opinion his best effort in the genre, I can safely say that Malcolm Williamson certainly deserves more collective attention than he's been granted by the critics and public alike. His music is constantly diverse, imaginative, bold, conservative, lyrical and adventurous, all rolled into one. The first movement of the No. 3 ends with all the panache and dramatic flourish of the grand romantics, whilst the second scherzo movement, with its odd time signatures, sounds like a deranged jazz pianist trying to find his way through complicated music. (The composer himself played the piano in night clubs during the 1950s). And its slow molto largo movement spans a wide spectrum of emotions from a beautifully simple melody, to grandiose and powerful chords, to strangely contorted 12-tone passages. (No doubt remnants of his younger years when he dabbled in serial music). The Piano Concerto No. 4 in D major included in this set is a world première recording, and although composed in 1994, it's the work that sounds the most as if it had been written a century earlier. The slow movement in particular is beautiful in its conservatism.

Pianist Piers Lane needs no introduction, as he's been for many years one of the best pianists within Hyperion's roster of top-ranking musicians, and conductor Howard Shelley, himself an accomplished pianist with many recordings to his credit on the Chandos label, serves as an ideal partner in this most welcome recording. Piano concerto fans should not need to be convinced that this is a worthwhile and meritorious release. And for the serious collectors out there who may already have a recording of the No. 3 performed by the composer himself available on the Lyrita label, this new release will not only make for interesting comparisons, but will also round out the set.

Jean-Yves Duperron - March 2014