Johnson Over Jordan (Suite) – Joanna MacGregor, piano/English Ch.
Orch./London Symphony/Steuart Bedford – Naxos 8.557197, 63:43 ****:
Benjamin Britten spent three years in America from 1939 thru 1942 and
wrote considerable music during that time. The Paul Bunyan Overture is
an example. It was for a choral operetta which was premiered in New
York City in l941. Britten also write much music for the stage
and film during the 30s and 40s, of which the music for a play by J. B.
Priestley is one. It has six short cues and sounds totally unlike
Britten, with its wild blusey harmonies reminding me of nothing so much
as Harold Arlen!
However, the big attraction here is the Piano Concerto written first in
l938 and then revised in l945. It is the composer’s only piano concerto
and he wrote it for his own performances as a pianist. Its four
movement titles suggest a suite, though the work is tightly
constructed: Toccata, Waltz, Impromptu and March. The Waltz has a
sardonic nature, and the militaristic March may remind one of both
Shostakovich and Mahler.
These recordings date from 1989 and 90 and were originally released by
the now-defunct label Collins Classics as recording premieres.
Sonic quality is excellent and it is pleasing to have them again
available, and at bargain price.
– John Sunier