Mark Bebbington / David Curtis / Orchestra of the Swan

Bax: Concertino; Ireland: Piano Concerto; Legend

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This release by British music specialist Mark Bebbington and the attractively named Orchestra of the Swan began as a recording of John Ireland's Piano Concerto, but the real news came with a suggestion from the British Library that an unfinished Bax manuscript in its possession, a Concertino for piano and orchestra of 1939, might be successfully completed and performed. The work, intended for Bax's champion and paramour Harriet Cohen, was apparently abandoned amid the breakup of British musical life that occurred in months surrounding the outbreak of World War II. It was left in open score on two staves, with a fairly clear division between soloist and orchestra aided by some explicit notations. The orchestration and some details of the piano part have been left to arranger Graham Parlett, whose end product shows little sign of a struggle to grasp Bax's idiom. Though termed a concertino (and it's not exactly clear where this title originated), the work is larger in scope than the Ireland concerto, and each movement goes through several distinct episodes. The opening movement, as developed by Parlett, has a versatile piano part that moves between decoration and statements and developments of a heroic motif that forms the glue of the movement, and the slow movement is one of Bax's gloomy pastorals. The Ireland concerto, which was quite a celebrated work in its day, is a dramatic and controlled work suggesting of sort of English version of Prokofiev. The episodic Legend for piano and orchestra that rounds out the program calls forth a moody performance from Bebbington, who has plainly immersed himself in the general idiom of this period. Lovers of the English school will rejoice in the emergence of a work that is not just a footnote to Bax's career, but a major new 20th century piano concerto. Useful notes by Parlett appear in English and French.

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