Corigliano Piano Concerto;Ticheli Radiant Voices;Postcard
It is good to have two alternative recordings of Corigliano’s Piano Concerto, a powerful and ambitious work in four sharply contrasted movements. Dating from 1968, long before his AIDS-inspired Symphony No. 1 and the brilliantly successful Met opera, The Ghosts of Versailles, it communicates with similar immediacy. The substantial opening Allegro, much the longest movement, is in modified sonata form, with a jazzy first subject prompting heavyweight virtuoso writing for the soloist, quickly leading to a broadly lyrical, meditative second theme. If Corigliano unashamedly uses a freely eclectic style, his writing is consistently positive and energetic, never merely conventional, both in that first movement and the compact scherzo, the lyrical Andante appassionato slow movement and the Rondo finale which follow.
Having an all-Corigliano coupling has the merit of setting the work in context. The Elegy and the show-piece, Tournaments Overture, both date from even earlier and are his first full orchestral works – the one developed from the love scene in incidental music Corigliano wrote for a play about Helen of Troy, the other a virtuoso piece, substantially monothematic, that tests the orchestra to the limit in its three clearly defined sections, fast-slow-fast. Unlike most composers Corigliano is consistently helpful and direct in his comments on each work. One would never have realized that the Fantasia on an Ostinato was adapted from a solo piano piece, so fluent and brilliant is the orchestral writing. The argument is built on the main theme of the Allegretto second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which eventually emerges gently and slowly at the very end, with the final chord taken direct from the symphony. As Corigliano puts it, “I have attempted to combine what I felt were the attractive aspects of minimalism with convincing architecture and emotional expression”.
Slatkin draws outstanding playing from the St Louis orchestra, and Barry Douglas proves a powerful advocate, using a daringly wide dynamic range and tonal palate. Adopting slightly broader speeds in all four movements, Alain Lefevre’s reading may not be quite as commanding, but at many points it is a degree more warmly expressive, helped by playing from the Pacific Symphony Orchestra (drawn from professional Hollywood musicians) that yields nothing to their St Louis rivals, with a recording that is even more full-bodied. The coupling, less generous as well as less apt than on the rival disc, is attractive even so. Born in 1958, Frank Ticheli, composer-in-residence to this orchestra, is represented by two warm, unproblematic works full of engaging echoes of composers from Bartok and Copland to John Adams, with a flavouring of Walton in the jazz-rhythms.'