seems matched only by their dedication
to British music. This coupling is positively
inspired. Vaughan Williams’ Piano Concerto
is pretty much a stranger to the concert
hall (and indeed, to the catalogues
– although Shelley did a remake for
Chandos in 1990, with the LPO under
Bryden Thomson on CHAN8941, there coupled
with the Ninth Symphony). Alas I have
not heard the Chandos reading, although
it is interesting to note that Gramophone
considers it inferior to this one. (There
is also version of the score for two
pianos and orchestra made by Joseph
Cooper and the composer and recorded
by Vronsky and Babin with Boult on EMI.)
The Piano Concerto
is certainly not typical Vaughan Williams
(if such a thing exists at all, that
is). It opens with a surprisingly motoric
and dynamic ‘Toccata’, characterised
by fierce momentum. There is also a
distinctly heroic aspect, as if Vaughan
Williams was aware of the historical
imperative to provide a statement of
depth in this genre.
Yet there is a gentler
aspect to the work, also. So when there
is a ‘cadenza’ (linking the first and
second movements and marked ‘senza misura’),
it is no virtuoso, sweat-inducing marathon,
rather a single line imbued with the
utmost feeling. It certainly provides
an effective bridge to the still and
peaceful Romanza (Lento). Special mention
should be made of the flute solo, which
the RPO’s principal presents as a serene,
carefree improvisation. This is more
Vaughan Williams the pastoral. The plaintive
oboe solo (around 7’20) is very effective,
as is the oboe and cello duet at 9’15,
the latter exposed and disquieting.
It is precisely this ruffling of the
waters that makes the interruption of
the final movement not only structurally
logical, but imperative.
Shelley’s way with
the first statement of the Fugue theme
(the finale is marked, ‘ Fuga Chromatica
con Finale alla Tedesca’) is objective
and respectful. Interesting how throughout
the sections of fugal meat there is
a sense of compositional struggle and
an almost Hindemithian seriousness.
The recording copes
supremely well with the denser passages
in this concerto.
wrote enthusiastically about an
all-Foulds Lyrita disc (SRCD212).
If further proof of the genius of
this composer be needed, the Dynamic
Triptych provides it. Roughly the
same length as the VW concerto, it was
praised by Havergal Brian as ‘a major
work by a composer of daring originality’
(quoted in Bernard Benoliel’s superb
notes accompanying this release). Certainly
the first movement (‘Dynamic Mode’)
is fully inside the virtuoso tradition.
Foulds’ writing for both piano and orchestra
is exuberant, almost overwhelmingly
so, and moments of respite are few (a
lovely one is near the end of the movement).
It is left to ‘Dynamic Timbre’ to provide
full contrast, but this is no easy repose.
Here Foulds inhabits a very shadowy
world – the movement’s slow build-up
has a real monumentalism about it. To
call much of this music beautiful is
almost to under-sell it (‘beautiful’
is surely an over-used word in critical
circles) – it is almost achingly so.
The feeling of a processional is at
hand (the movement is nearly 13 minutes
long, so it has time to ‘stretch’ itself),
while the use of slithery quarter-tones
is really quite disturbing in effect.
The silvery tones of the closing pages
hang hauntingly in the air. Finally,
‘Dynamic Rhythm’ calls to mind Ravel.
Its dancing rhythms make for the perfect
finale. The excellent Lyrita recording
captures all the detail of this sparkling
If you are buying this
for the Vaughan Williams, you will not
be disappointed. And you may just find
your mouth agape at the marvels of the