Howard Shelley / Vernon Handley / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Vaughan Williams: Piano Concertos; John Foulds: Dynamic Triptych

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When Lyrita first released this disc in 1984, it was a major revelation for fans of English twentieth century music. Of course, Vaughan Williams was already well known and well loved for "Greensleeves" and "Tallis" Fantasias, but his fierce and forceful Piano Concerto of 1931, considered unsuccessful even by his admirers, had been transformed into the brawny and brutal Two-Piano Concerto in 1946 -- and then dropped from the repertoire. But Howard Shelley's magnificent recording of the original version with Vernon Handley leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra completely overturned that common assumption. Shelley, who was at the same time recording Rachmaninov's complete piano works for Hyperion, tears into the opening Toccata with immense strength and unerring technique, yet he also illuminates the passionate yearning of the central Romanza and especially the serene bliss of the Finale's coda with consummate sensitivity. With Handley's firm support and the Royal Philharmonic's superb playing, Shelley's performance of Vaughan Williams' original Piano Concerto was enough to make this disc mandatory listening for fans of English twentieth century music.

But then came the Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra by John Foulds -- and the disc went immediately from mandatory to indispensable. Foulds, a now nearly unknown English composer who had been lionized in the early '20s for his A World Requiem in commemoration of the war dead, had written the Dynamic Triptych in 1929 in Paris under the influence of exotic music theories. With Handley's unfailing strength and RPO's superlative playing, Shelley grants exuberant life to Foulds' intensely dramatic and wildly experimental music: to the opening Dynamic Mode's extravagant virtuosity, to the central Dynamic Timbre's uncanny luminosity, to the closing Dynamic Rhythm's unstoppable energy. A hit of sorts after its premier in England in 1931 -- Havergal Brian, for example, liked it very much -- Foulds' Dynamic Triptych left the repertoire when the composer left England for India and seemingly died when he died of cholera in 1939 in Calcutta. This recording was the work's first performance since 1933 -- and it totally blew the minds of fans of English twentieth century music when it was first released. And, recorded in vividly realistic and vibrantly colorful sound by Lyrita, this disc will still blow the mind of any fan of English twentieth century music who doesn't already know it.

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