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Reconstructing the image


PETER DICKINSON listens to world première recordings of music by Constant Lambert

This is a major event for Lambert enthusiasts, who have waited for years to hear the Piano Concerto he wrote at the age of only 19 but never completed. I remember the first performance, put on by Redcliffe Concerts at St. Johns, Smith Square, London, on 2 March 1988. Lasting under twenty minutes, it was played twice - before and after the interval - by Jonathan Plowright with the Redcliffe Chamber orchestra under Christopher Adey. It did not make a lasting impression on me at the time, but on the evidence of this recording it ought to have done. I was well aware then of the dedicated work from Giles Easterbrook and Edward Shipley that went into orchestrating the Concerto from short score. Now, with Payne's completion of Elgar's Third Symphony, we live in an age of reconstructions. The present soloist, David Owen Norris, has recorded the Piano Concerto which Robert Walker based on Lambert's sketches. So now is the time to reconstruct Lambert's image based on a full knowledge of the early works thanks to this recording.

The Concerto starts in epic style with timpani rhythms, syncopations and immediate energetic statements from the soloist. [listen - track 6, 0:29-1:00]. Strong stuff. There are bound to be detectable influences in the style of a nineteen-year-old but these barely detract from the coherent impression of the four movements played without a break. Most obviously, perhaps, the second subject material echoes Poulenc, especially the delightful piano duet sonata (1918) which Lambert has to have played. [listen - track 6, 1:48-2:24] But Lambert is able to make much more of this motif than Poulenc had time for and it crops up in other movements of the Concerto too.

Then the second movement, as a scherzo, is rhythmically derived and sounds very like Walton, except that the Walton it resembles had not yet been composed. But one does wonder if Lambert was partly responding to Walton's Sinfonia Concertante for two pianos, jazz band and orchestra which he completed in 1923 and then sadly destroyed. [listen - track 7, 0:30-0:54].


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Copyright © 6 February 2000 Peter Dickinson, Aldeburgh, UK






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