“British Composers Premieres Vol. 4 plus 1” = DOROTHY HOWELL: Piano Concerto; LILIAN ELKINGTON: Out of the Mist; CYRIL SCOTT: Harpsichord Concerto; SALOMON JADASSOHN: Serenade No. 3 – Valentina Seferinova, p./ Michael Laus, harpsi./ Orion Sym. Orch./Toby Purser/ Malta Philharmonic Orch./ Michael Laus – Cameo Classics CC9041CD [www.cameo-classics.com] ****:
“British Composers Premieres Vol. 5” = KENNETH LEIGHTON: Piano Concerto No. 1 in d; RUTH GIPPS: Piano Concerto Op. 34 – Angela Brownridge, p./ Malta Philharmonic Orch./ Michael Laus – Cameo Classics CC9046CD [www.cameo-classics.com] ****:
This interesting label specializing in mostly obscure works by British composers, as well as the standard fare, sort of disappeared for awhile but is now being distributed by Nimbus Records, along with the Lyrita and Hallé labels. The label was founded by David Kent-Watson. Whether this means all of these labels will then be also distributed by Allegro we have not yet heard at time of writing. It’s interesting that both Cameo and Nimbus produce CD-Rs which are burned as orders come in, rather than pressing commercial CDs. (Research has shown that the life expectancy of CD-Rs does not equal that of pressed CDs.) And most of the Cameos are dubbed at a lower volume level, but still sound excellent.
On the first CD, these are premiere recordings of all four works. The primary interest for me (being a sometime harpsichordist) was the Cyril Scott Harpsichord Concerto, Scott being one of my favorite composers and there being few modern harpsichord concertos. Scott wrote over 400 works and of course is best known for his piano piece Lotus Land. He used a usually exotic harmonic language and experimented in free rhythm, and had a strong influence on other British composers of the time. The Harpsichord Concerto was premiered in 1938. Its chamber orchestra setting is for flute, clarinet, bassoon, strings and piano. The strings slither chromatically to open the work, and the dialog between the harpsichord and the orchestra has other-worldly harmonies. The second movement, “Pastorale Orientale,” is influenced by Scriabin and has a complex coda. The brief Finale keeps up the light feeling of the concerto, with contrasting portions that vacillate between exultant and brooding.
Out of the Mist was written in 1921 by the noted pianist and organist Elkington, but was forgotten until someone found it in a second-hand book store in the late 1970s. It is a short tone poem connected with the keyboardist’s memories of the First World War. The Howell Piano Concerto dates from 1923 and shows the impressionistic and telling use of the brass section which characterizes Howell’s works. One performance of it was conducted by Adrian Boult, who described it as “…buoyant music, without the flamboyancy of Liszt or the effeminacy of Chopin…” Bigness and freedom of style distinguish her larger works, of which there is only one other much known: a tone poem titled Lamia. Jadassohn is a shamefully neglected composer who lived until 1902. He taught at Leipzig Conservatory, but his works were attacked in the rising tide of antisemitism in Germany in the late 19th century. His four-movement Serenade is a light-hearted and melodic piece somewhat in the style of Mendelssohn.
Pianist Angela Brownridge is behind the second CD here. She already did three solo CDs for Cameo in 2009 to celebrate the bicentenaries of Chopin, Schumann and Liszt. Kenneth Leighton, who lived until 1988, differed from the background of most British composers in coming from a very humble family. He became associated with the University of Edinburgh, and is now known for his lighter music. However, he composed three rather serious piano concertos, of which this was his first. It’s full of high spirits and has portions of great virtuosity between soloist and orchestra. Overall it has an innate romanticism.
The Gipps Piano Concerto is prefaced by two of her works for solo piano. Gipps was an accomplished musician and prolific composer who lived until 1999. She had been a pioneering woman conductor at a time of much discrimination against women. Her mature style has modal harmonies similar to Vaughn Williams plus a skillful use of instrumental color. The concerto’s opening movement is a war-horse statement, while the second movement has an enjoyable set of miniature variations. Again, her unusual harmonies, sometimes reminding one of Cyril Scott, make for a most appealing concerto. Again, recording premieres of both works.