Rorem Piano Concerto No 2; Cello Concerto
How remarkable that two such delectable concertos should be receiving their world premieres on disc. Unapologetically romantic and accessible, those qualities may well have mitigated against acceptance among the industry’s fashion-mongers. The Second Piano Concerto (1951) was written for Julius Katchen (also the dedicatee of Rorem’s attractive Second Piano Sonata) and was given its first performance by that superb pianist in 1954. Since then it has lain dormant until its present revival by Simon Mulligan whose brilliance, ideally matched by José Serebrier, is worthy of Katchen himself. Here, the ghosts of Ravel, Françaix, Gershwin, Stravinsky and, most of all, Poulenc, jostle for attention. Yet Rorem’s idiom is as personal as it is chic. The final pages of the central “Quiet and Sad” movement, where the piano weaves intricate tracery round the orchestral theme, may owe much to the Adagio assai from Ravel’s G major Concerto but it maintains its own character. The finale, “Real Fast”, is an irresistible tour de force played up to the hilt by Mulligan.
In the Cello Concerto Rorem happily eschews a conventional form, giving programmatic subtitles to each section. These range from “Curtain Raise” to “Adrift”, offering Wen-Sinn Yang a rich opportunity, whether playing primus inter pares or revelling in Rorem’s alternating nostalgia and effervescence. Finely recorded, it’s a clear winner for the Naxos American Classics series.