Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Symphonic Studies (1938) [20:11]
Overture: Street Corner (1944) [5:32]
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1942) [20:10]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1951) [31:24]
Malcolm Binns (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir John Pritchard (Studies; Street Corner)
London Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. 1977, 1979. ADD LYRITA SRCD.255 [77:26]
More rich fare for
the British Music Collector comes in the shape of the two
Rawsthorne concertos, his zesty 1944 overture and one of
his major statements, the Symphonic Studies.
I’ve always thought
the Studies his masterpiece, a truly cogent, impressive and
tensile work that wears its academic title with almost ironic
brilliance. Fortunately the studies are separately tracked
so we can enjoy their creative brilliance at will. The Allegro
di bravura is an exercise in sheer vivacity, emotionally
coiled and passionate. Pritchard drives it with masterly
control, broadening tellingly for the Allegretto which
is notable in this performance for its palpable sense of
unease. No less important is the expressive trawling of the
Lento – reserved but active, and characterised with real
acumen. By the time we reach the Allegro piacevole things
are really heating up. The winds and the rugged bravado of
the brass make their important presences felt. The sense
of accomplishment is brilliantly realised in this triumphant
performance. The Street Corner overture is both brilliant
(again) and genial with the habanera kick and the loquacity
of the writing brought out with undisguised glee.
The First Concerto
was written in wartime, two years earlier than the overture.
Wittily brusque it sports baroque tinged amulets. But that’s
not nearly the full story of course; the Rawsthorne trademark “pawk” is
here but subsumed in the toccata flourishes of the piano
writing, which fully meld and mesh with the surrounding material.
It’s all perfectly judged. The central Chaconne unfolds with
grave, slightly removed intimacy, the piano commenting or
stating according to the music’s dictates. And the Tarantella
finale is puckish and vital, the percussion section triumphant
and the brass blistering as they play the Spanish Republican Bandiera
Rosa. Don’t miss the deft Haydnesque throwaway punch
The 1951 Concerto
opens in decidedly Francophile fashion before the orchestration
begins to deepen and thicken. There’s more of a florid element
than there had been in the sparer textures of the earlier
concerto. But there’s still the insouciant, almost cocksure
writing for the protagonist and the sense of interior introspection
as well. The second movement is a study in contrasts, from
lightness and delicacy to more boorish outbursts. But I think
most ears will be drawn to the moments of sublimated Bachian
reflectiveness in the slow movement where Binns is supremely
eloquent – nostalgic, romantic but, as well, embracing more
scherzando sections. The finale opens boisterously but not
facetiously, admitting introspection as well as self-assertion.
In general the ebullience of the writing acts as a tonic
and the performance is vital and exciting.
It’s not the only
performance of course. You can find competing and newer recordings
on Chandos and Naxos. All three are excellent and recommendable.
But these performances are as fine as any and the Studies
is a truly compelling performance.
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