Somervell Piano Concerto;Cowen Concertstück

The ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ series reaches Vol 54 in style

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

Somervell Piano Concerto;Cowen Concertstück

  • Concertstück
  • Normandy Symphonic Variations
  • Concerto for Piano, 'Highland'

Now almost forgotten, Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen (his parents must have been unfamiliar with female geography) was one of the stalwarts of British music before the emergence of Elgar. Older readers will know his concert overture The Butterfly’s Ball (there’s a rather wonderful 1916 recording of Cowen himself conducting it on Dutton and his own arrangement for pianola on NMC). This and his 20-minute Concertstück are testaments to a sound training in Leipzig and a charming if modest lyrical gift. The piano part reflects his early credentials as a child prodigy and virtuoso, and if there are passages lifted almost directly from Liszt’s E flat Concerto (from 13'42" to 13'50", for instance, or the trills at 16'55") there are worse models from which to borrow.

Sir Arthur Somervell, as represented here, has a more distinctively individual touch. Normandy, another 20-minute work, is a set of variations played continuously but with the structure of a four-movement symphony. Some of the ideas are truly enchanting (try the section at 8'45", adroitly handled by Roscoe) and if the work never rises to the greatest heights, it certainly merits this revival – as does the Highland Concerto (1921), as near to a “British light music” concerto as you’ll hear and about as authentically Scottish as a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Its three movements have infuriatingly catchy themes which, though by Somervell, somehow sound familiar.

Beyond his customary grace and lucid phrasing, Martin Roscoe dispatches the often taxing writing with stylish élan, while the indefatigable Martyn Brabbins once again leads the wonderful (and underrated) BBC Scottish players in three world premiere recordings that sound as if they’ve been a much-loved part of their repertoire for years.

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