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FERGUSON / GERHARD / ROWLEY / DARNTON: Piano Concertos


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Alec Rowley (1892-1958): Piano Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 49


Christian Darnton (1905-1981): Piano Concertino in C major


Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970): Concerto for piano and strings


Howard Ferguson (1908-1999): Concerto for piano and string orchestra, Op. 12


This recording brings together a fascinating collectionof piano concertos by four very diverse composers thatwere all written in the middle decades of the lastcentury. Alec Rowley is a neglected figure nowadays,although his music enjoyed wide currency during hislifetime. His career embraced composition,performance (as organist and pianist), teaching andwriting. He studied at the Royal Academy of Musicwhere his composition teacher was Frederick Corder.

In 1919 he became professor of composition at TrinityCollege, and during the 1930s he formed a piano duetpartnership with Edgar Moy, with whom he wasfrequently heard in BBC broadcasts. Much of hismusic was conceived for educational or amateurpurposes and includes a series of what he called'miniature' concertos for piano, violin, cello andorgan, as well as works for strings (English DanceSuite) and orchestra (In an Apple Orchard). Otherorchestral works include two piano concertos and theThree Idylls for piano and orchestra heard at the Promsin 1942. Further information about his life and musicmay be found in Beryl Kington's fascinating bookRowley Rediscovered.

Rowley's First Piano Concerto received itspremi?¿re in a BBC broadcast in August 1938. Thesoloist was Franz Weitzmann with members of theBBC Orchestra conducted by Warwick Braithwaite.

Apart from strings, the concerto is deftly scored for adlib percussion and timpani which are included on thisrecording. It opens with an arresting introductionmarked by a fanfare motif and piquant harmonies. Themusic that follows, clearly based on the fanfare, has abreezy, open-air freshness about it and has as itssecondary theme a winsome, lyrical melody. A simplewistful waltz, full of pastoral charm and a hint ofDelius, provides a foil to the energetic outermovements. The opening of the finale is an exactrepeat of the first movement's introduction until itveers away on a course of its own, with the fanfaremotif now transformed in the bass. Overall the mood isjocular as heard in the contrasting theme with itsteasing syncopations. The fanfare motif returns tocrown the concerto before it ends with a sparklingcoda.

Christian Darnton is the least known composerrepresented here and the primary source of informationabout him may be found in the pioneering thesis of DrAndrew Plant, whose generous help the present writergratefully acknowledges. Darnton studied compositionwith Charles Wood at Cambridge University, then thebassoon and conducting at the Royal College of Musicin London, with further composition lessons with MaxButting in Berlin. Darnton's early music of the 1930sis advanced and dissonant and includes the PianoConcerto and the Five Orchestral Pieces, a criticalsuccess at its Warsaw premi?¿re in 1939. His book Youand Music published in 1940 was also widely admired.

During World War II Darnton became a communistand consequently decided that his music must becomepopulist, which led to a radical simplification of hisstyle. Works that reflect this stance include theunstaged opera Fantasy Fair. In the 1950s,discouraged by the lack of success, he gave upcomposing for almost twenty years. Later heabandoned communism and in the last decade of hislife had a remarkable rekindling of creativity,composing two major works in the 1970s, theConcerto for Orchestra and the Fourth Symphony.

The Concertino for Piano and Strings, composedin 1948, was commissioned by Darnton's staunchsupporter, the South African pianist Adolf Hallis, whogave the premi?¿re in April 1949 in Durban with theJohannesburg Symphony Orchestra. Its overallcharacter, reflecting Darnton's rejection of his earlierstyle, is couched in a Stravinskian neo-classical idiomand the music is built around the interval of a third andby extension the triad. A languid elegance is apparent inthe opening theme announced initially by the stringsalthough the music gains a more steely edge as itproceeds. The slow movement is characterized in itsouter sections by a graceful nonchalance and filigreelightness as the upper and lower lines of the pianogently chase each other in imitation. In the middle thereis a more overtly romantic outpouring which graduallydarkens to the lumbering tread of a slow march. Themovement ends with a descending chain of thirds,Brittenesque in character, reflecting anothercompositional influence on Darnton. Neo-classicalrestraint is thrown to the winds in the finale with thesoloist plunging headlong into a pounding bravuradisplay of pianistic pyrotechnics. There is a lighterplayful development section before a return of the mainidea and a majestic culmination with the transformedreturn of the opening of the first movement.

Although Spanish, Roberto Gerhard lived inEngland for a quarter of a century and became a Britishcitizen. He was the most important Spanish composer inthe generation following Falla. From his first teachers,Granados (piano), and Pedrell (composition), hebecame steeped in the tradition of the nationalist school,but then his interest in the radical developments withinEuropean composition led him to study withSchoenberg. During the 1930s he became a leadingfigure in Spanish and particularly Catalan artisticcircles, but in 1939 after Franco's accession to powerfollowing the Spanish Civil War, he moved to England.

Notable works of the 1940s include his ballet DonQuixote and the opera The Duenna. From the 1950sonwards his music became advanced and exploratory,as he developed his own personal brand ofSchoenberg's serial technique, which was combinedwith a superb ear for instrumental sonorities. The musicof his last twenty years led to international recognitionand includes four impressive symphonies composedbetween 1952 and 1967.

Gerhard's Piano Concerto, first performed by NoelMewton-Wood at the 1951 Aldeburgh Festival, with theFestival Orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar, wasthe first of Gerhard's works composed with serialtechniques. Each movement is headed with a title thatrefers to Renaissance Spanish keyboard music. Tientorefers to the name used by sixteenth-century Spanishorganists for toccata and the movement has a whirlwindenergy in which the soloist barely pauses for breath.

Diferencias is the Spanish equivalent of the Englishdivisions or variations and Gerhard suggested that the'theme and diferencias here may be taken as sevendifferent visions of the same face'. Based on a Catalanreligious song, the movement is among Gerhard's mostpowerful utterances, a dark lament for his country underthe yoke of dictatorship into which the Dies irae is alsowoven. Folias was a fantasy-like form on ground bassline. It was associated with a popular seventeenthcenturymelody which was widely used in keyboard andstring music. Gerhard makes prominent use of the firstthree notes of the Folia tune in his finale which hedescribed as having 'a frenzied carnival-follyatmosphere' reminiscent of Goya's Burial of theSardine.

Howard Ferguson's relatively few compositionsbelong to the earlier part of his career, although manyhave been revived and recorded in the last two decades.

Born in Belfast, he studied at the Royal College ofMusic as well as having private tuition with the pianistHarold Samuel. As a composer he came to attention inthe 1930s with the First Violin Sonata and the Octet,and consolidated his reputation with the Partita and thePiano Sonata. During the war he assisted Myra Hesswith the organization of the daily lunch-time concerts ofchamber music at the National Gallery. Amongst laterworks are Five Bagatelles for piano, the Second ViolinSo
Facts
Item number 8557290
Barcode 747313229024
Release date 12/01/2004
Category Piano
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Performers
Artists Donohoe, Peter
Donohoe, Peter
Composers Gerhard, Roberto
Rowley, Alec
Darnton, Christian
Ferguson, Howard
Rowley, Alec
Darnton, Christian
Ferguson, Howard
Gerhard, Roberto
Conductors Donohoe, Peter
Donohoe, Peter
Orchestras Sinfonia, Northern
Sinfonia, Northern
Disc: 1
Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 12
1 I. Allegro ritmico
2 II. Andante naif
3 III. Allegro alla Burlesco
4 I. Allegro molto moderato
5 II. Andante
6 III. Presto con disinvoltura
7 I. Tiento: Allegro
8 II. Diferencias: Adagio
9 III. Folia: Molto mosso
10 I. Allegro
11 II. Theme and Variations: Mesto - L'istesso tempo
12 III. Allegro gioviale
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