Music and Vision homepage Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller

 

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In his Second Piano Concerto Benjamin Lees shares much of Creston's delight in rhythmic compositional elements, but the work is more intense and driven. Its three movements are fast, slow, fast. The first is in a standard form for a concerto, but instead of long lines we hear melodic fragments that gradually combine into longer phrases. The composer emphasizes the piano's percussive nature. In both the first and third movements I was often reminded of the toccata-like sections of Prokofiev's sonatas and concertos, though Lees' melodic and harmonic approaches are quite different. The more contemplative second movement may remind some of the 'night music' of Bartók's concertos. It features dialogues between piano and individual orchestra sections. The timpani is the first and last discussion partner, again reminding us of the piano as percussion. The finale is an unusual rondo with, to quote the composer's notes, 'development taking place within each separate motive'. The concerto concludes with fiery abandon [listen -- track 9, 7:00-8:52].

I can see why virtuoso Ian Hobson was drawn to Lees' difficult and unrelenting piece. He gives a masterful performance. Ursula Oppens is equally effective in the moodier Shawn concerto, which was written for her. The Albany Symphony is solid throughout this nearly seventy four minutes of seldom heard, but accessible modern music. For all the talk of shrinking classical markets, we have been provided another ironic sign that this is a Golden Age for collectors.

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Copyright © 16 October 2003 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA

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Allen Shawn and Benjamin Lees Piano Concertos

TROY 441 DDD Stereo 73'55" 2001 Albany Records

Ursula Oppens, piano (Shawn); Ian Hobson, piano (Lees); Albany Symphony Orchestra; David Alan Miller, conductor

Andrew Bishop: Crooning; Allen Shawn: Piano Concerto (1997-9); Paul Creston: Dance Overture Op 62 (1954); Benjamin Lees: Piano Concerto No 2 (1968)

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RON BIERMAN TALKS TO BENJAMIN LEES

BENJAMIN LEES

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