A fascinating collection
Fred Granlund | Los Angeles, CA USA | 01/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For listeners who haven't discovered much interesting English music beyond Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Holst, this set is a real find: five discs of contemporary British concertos with never a dull moment. The better-known composers (Arnold, Stanford, Lambert, and of course VW and Holst) are represented here at their very best, and virtually all the others are shown to be equally fine. Those unfamiliar with Stanford's Brahmsian Clarinet Concerto and Holst's delectible "Fugal Concerto" may well consider them worth the price of the whole set, but that could also be said of Finzi's beautiful and rarely heard Clarinet Concerto. The highlights for me (because I hadn't heard them) were Lambert's cheeky Piano Concerto (which apparently never made it out his workshop but is heard here in a posthumous reconstruction) and Howard Blake's Violin Concerto, which surely deserves a place beside Samuel Barber's and William Walton's as one of the 20th Century's outstanding landmarks. And though I have a congenital antipathy to the saxophone, I found Christopher Gunning's "On Hungerford Bridge" absolutely spellbinding: evocative, atmospheric, exactly the sort of music to make this racous instrument sound wonderful. The other works are similarly rewarding, and I wouldn't have changed any of the contents (though I might have been tempted to add Finzi's awesome Cello Concerto and a few other things). Nothing outlandishly modern here, either; even Rawsthorne's spiky Chamber Concerto is as listenable as the rest, at least by the second go-round. And you won't believe how effective a bassoon concerto can be!
The performances and recordings are all top-notch (these are all ASV recordings, previously released with other couplings - which can lead to even more discoveries for those wanting to investigate further). Blake's Violin Concerto even boasts the sensational Christiane Edinger as soloist, which says something about its quality. She gets a bit buried in the recorded balance at times, but turn up the volume and you'll hear a stunning performance of a great concerto in true concert perspective (not over-miked as usual). Strongly recommended, especially at the Naxos-like price."