KENNETH LEIGHTON: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3. Symphony No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 3 ‘Concerto estivo’ – Howard Shelly, piano/ BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Martyn Brabbins – Chandos CHAN 10608, 73:03 [Distributed by Naxos]****:
English composer Kenneth Leighton (1929-88) had attached great importance to writing a symphony, as he started his first effort at age ten. Another one was begun as a student at The Queens College, but only the opening movement was completed. A third one was attempted in 1953, but was withdrawn. After many successes at writing chamber music, he finally completed his First Symphony in 1964, one of the two works in this third installment of the complete orchestral music of Leighton. It was successful, winning a prize and was given three performances within two years of its premiere in 1965.
This three-movement, 35-minute work is emotionally dark, but very compelling. The highlight is the brilliantly orchestrated, hysterically manic scherzo that showcases the crack ensemble of BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Chandos’ state of the art sound. The Adagio is a movement of amazing emotional substance – deliciously compelling in its angst. Yet, one also remembers the poignant wind solos. The conclusion ends with a whimper, and, as the composer remarks, ‘and in the end only leaves a question mark’. This is a significant world premiere recording of an exciting orchestral statement that will be a discovery for lovers of twentieth century symphonic music.
The Piano Concerto No. 3, ‘Concerto estivo’ (Summer Concerto) of 1969 was written as a remembrance of the warm weather Leighton experienced in Oxford, after twelve years of the cold summers at the University of Edinburgh. The lyrical and motivic writing in this work reflects the happier mood of the composer. The piano is integrated into the lyrical orchestral accompaniment, yet the work is not without tension and drama. Notable is the Pastorale, a dreamy and quietly sensual sunny reverie, that’s interrupted by a nightmarish stormy interlude. The finale, a theme and variations, is an exciting exercise in thematic development. Howard Shelley is the energetic and brilliant soloist in this likeable concerto. Twentieth century music explorers will feel this release is worth finding.
— Robert Moon