Mewton-Wood plays Twentieth Century Piano Concertos = BLISS: Piano Concerto in B-flat Major; STRAVINSKY: Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments; SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerto No. 1 with Trumpet and Strings, Op. 35 – Harry Sevenstern, trumpet/ Utrecht Symphony Orchestra (Bliss)/ Residentie Orchestra, The Hague (Stravinsky)/ Concert Hall Symphony (Shostakovich)/ Walter Goehr
British Music Society BMS101CDH, 79:00 [BritishMusicSociety.com] ****:
In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of their initial release by Concert Hall Society, the conscientious British Music Society reissues (2003) the 1952-1953 recordings of contemporary concertos by the brilliant Australian virtuoso Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), who tragically took his own life by cyanide just as his international reputation–on a par with what William Kapell had achieved in American pianism–seemed assured. In gorgeous sound restoration, supplemented by excellent essays on Mewton-Wood by John Amis, Edward Sackville-West, and annotations on the music by John Talbot and William Mann, the entire production represents a milestone of its kind.
The literally thundering performance of the Sir Arthur Bliss Piano Concerto (1939) gleaned high praise from the composer and the critic Alec Robertson. The splashy Concerto–written as celebration of the New York World’s Fair and dedicated “To the People of the United States of America”–certainly requires bravura, and its main acolytes have been Solomon, Gina Bachauer, and Noel Mewton-Wood. The first movement cadenza warrants our admiration for Mewton-Wood’s digital facility, as well as his simply startling leaps and fiery runs in the course of he third movement. The Adagietto second movement elicits from Mewton-Wood a lovely palette of graduated sound, a degree of sensitivity we know from his recordings of the more traditional fare of Schumann and Tchaikovsky.
The chiseled neo-Classicism of Stravinsky’s 1924 Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments jabs and struts its way across our imagination, a colossus of motor energy in its glittering way. The digital accuracy of Mewton-Wood impresses, especially his deft negotiation of shifting metrics, the likes of which Bartok had to admire. As jazzy as it is reconstructed Bach, the first movement relishes a grand spit and polish, a magisterial self-confidence. Perhaps raising the aristocratic bar a step higher, the Largo casts an eerie glow on the principal choirs, the dirge-like woodwinds and the persuasive riffs from the solo piano, some of which move in parlando or recitativo cadenza fashion. The final movement–in four defined tempos–astounds us first with its percussive and jarring demeanor, its jaunty self-possession. The vehement agitation eventually thumps to a more placid mood, meditative, and at last, ironic. Behind the studied power of the notes we can detect the probing intellect of both pianist and conductor, whose sympathies for this music never lapse.
No less intellectual and sarcastic, the Shostakovich 1933 Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings frolics and cavorts with its colorful forces, often achieving a blistering elemental force. The inscription from 1953 proved to be Mewton-Wood’s last commercial endeavor. No surprise that Mewton-Wood’s digital acumen propels us through ardent and whimsical figures with the same fervent attention to rhythmic and color details. The sheer comfort level of his approach testifies to a through grounding in harmony and the demands of the national style. The sense of architecture as we return to the Allegro moderato’s dominant motif seems as natural as it inevitable. Too little is made of conductor Walter Goehr (1903-1960), the esteemed protégé of Arnold Schoenberg, whose accuracy and enthusiasm for the music at hand proves totally convincing.