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British Piano Concertos - Alwyn / Donohoe, Judd, Et Al

Release Date: 07/19/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557590   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  William Alwyn
Performer:  Peter Donohoe
Conductor:  James Judd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

William Alwyn (1905–1985), thanks to Chandos, has fared better on disc than a number of his British contemporaries—Alan Bush, Armstrong Gibbs, Constant Lambert, and Robin Milford. Thus far, but for a few notable exceptions, Chandos has pretty much been king of the Alwyn hill. The current Naxos CD is one of those exceptions. Initially, the two piano concertos appeared as discmates to Chandos’s series of Alwyn symphonies. The concertos were played—and quite imposingly, I might add—by the always-reliable Howard Shelley. Chandos subsequently repackaged the two concertos on a single CD. Now we have the two concertos from powerhouse pianist Peter Donohoe, who has made somewhat of a specialty of 20th-century (especially British) “killer” Read more concertos, and conductor James Judd, who is equally at home in this repertoire.

There is much to recommend either of these versions, but the works themselves, in my opinion, probably do not warrant recommending both. Which is to say, if you already have one, you don’t need another. Alwyn’s First Piano Concerto (1930) is a highly compact piece, a four-movements-in-one affair—dispatched in 15:07 by Shelley and 14:38 by Donohoe—that strikes me as being long on busywork and somewhat short on melody. Its opening Allegro deciso has much in common with Prokofiev’s spiky Third Piano Concerto, while its too-brief Adagio e tranquillo continues in the Prokofiev vein, but is amelodic and underdeveloped. Alwyn wrote the concerto for Clifford Curzon, who premiered it with the composer conducting the Bournemouth SO in 1931. Alwyn’s Second Piano Concerto (1960) is a more ambitious work. As with the First, there is still a lot of hustle and bustle, but Alwyn now manages to spin out some very beautiful melodic ideas. Here the differences between Shelley and Donohoe are more pronounced, with Donohoe shaving nearly four minutes off of Shelley’s overall timing. The concerto’s scheduled premiere had to be cancelled when its dedicatee, the Dutch pianist Cor de Groot, was stricken by paralysis in one of his arms. Alwyn hastily composed an overture, Derby Day—also heard on this new Naxos CD—to fill the gap for the missing concerto on the program.

Mary Alwyn, the composer’s second wife—aka Doreen Carwithen, a recognized composer in her own right, discovered while rummaging through her late husband’s manuscripts that he had at some point excised the concerto’s second movement, even though it had never been performed. Only a brief transitional bridge passage remained connecting the two Allegro movements. Carwithen-Alwyn decided to restore the lovely, dreamy Andante, (a wise choice) and to tweak the concluding measures of the first movement to “restore a satisfactory ending.” Shelley’s 1993 Chandos recording of the concerto, with Carwithen-Alwyn’s contributions, was its first. Donohoe’s new recording also follows the Carwithen-Alwyn score. Between the two recordings, I find Donohoe the more visceral and driven, especially in the last movement, a Bartókian Allegro barbaro-like piece, where Donohoe’s faster tempo and more percussive attacks generate a real electrical charge. Sonically, though, Chandos provides Shelley with the better recording. The aforementioned Derby Day Overture is a sure crowd pleaser in Alwyn’s best film-score style. The Sonata alla toccata is a fantastic piece—a thrilling ride over a turning, twisting, virtuoso roller-coaster track, interrupted by moments of equally exhilarating lyrical repose.

If I had to choose one or another of these CDs, I’d probably go for the new Naxos, and not simply because of its bargain price. I prefer by a slight margin the edginess in Donohoe’s playing.

Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 1 by William Alwyn
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Conductor:  James Judd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; England 
Venue:  The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK 
Length: 14 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Notes: The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK (05/24/2004 - 05/25/2004) 
Concerto for Piano no 2 by William Alwyn
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Conductor:  James Judd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; England 
Venue:  The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK 
Length: 28 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Notes: The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK (05/24/2004 - 05/25/2004) 
Derby Day by William Alwyn
Conductor:  James Judd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; England 
Venue:  The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK 
Length: 6 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Notes: The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK (05/24/2004 - 05/25/2004) 
Sonata alla Toccata by William Alwyn
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945-1946; England 
Date of Recording: 05/21/2004 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Suffolk, England 
Length: 10 Minutes 9 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Piano Concerto No. 1: I. Allegro deciso
Piano Concerto No. 1: II. Adagio e tranquillo
Piano Concerto No. 1: III. Tempo primo
Piano Concerto No. 1: IV. Adagio molto e tranquillo
Derby Day: Overture
Piano Concerto No. 2: I. Allegro
Piano Concerto No. 2: II. Andante
Piano Concerto No. 2: III. Allegro con fuoco
Sonata alla toccata: I. Maestoso: Allegro ritmico e jubilante
Sonata alla toccata: II. Andante con moto e semplice
Sonata alla toccata: III. Molto vivace

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Superb in Every Respect! March 1, 2013 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Naxos has done it again, with a powerful recording of music for piano and orchestra by the 20th century English composer William Alwyn. This disk is part of Naxos' Alwyn project, covering much of his orchestral music, and contains Alwyn's 2 piano concertos and 2 shorter pieces. The piano concertos are wonderful works, full of virtuosic passages for piano and gloriously dynamic orchestral accompaniment. It is truly gratifying to discover mid-20th century works such as these, which avoid the all-too-frequently encountered tendency to wander off into dissonance or even atonality. Alwyn's compositional style emphasizes accessibility and smooth transitions, while at the same time developing strongly affirmative and forceful thematic expression. Soloist Peter Donohoe delivers a masterful account of these very fine concertos, and the sound of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is absolutely first class. Concerning the other works on this disk, the Derby Day Overture is a short and ebullient orchestral jaunt, while the Sonata alla toccata is the disk's concluding piece, a ten minute solo piano work with a highly refined and positive musical message. You can be confident of a positive listening experience from this warmly apppealing recording, which I highly recommend to all." Report Abuse
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