Williamson Piano Concerti: A long time in the making...

07 April 2014

MW Concerti

More than ten years since the project was first mooted (albeit with a different conductor and record label), a recording of the complete piano concerti of Malcolm Williamson has been released by Hyperion. Unfortunately, Williamson’s music is still widely neglected in the concert hall, but over the years there have been a number of recordings of his works that have been released and/or reissued, most notably two discs of orchestral works with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (on Chandos). Happily, there have been reissues with the composer (a formidable pianist and organist) on Lyrita and ABC Classics.

These six concerti (dating from 1957 to 1993) are indeed highly individual works and demonstrate the voice of a highly talented composer. Given his astonishing career and vast catalogue, one would think that Malcolm Williamson’s work would regularly appear in concert programmes and on the radio. Sadly, this is not the case. He was a true master of both the ‘big tune’ as well as of the quirky and the avant-garde. The importance of his contribution to all musical genres cannot, and should not, be overlooked. It would seem that the time has come to reassess the work of this great composer.

The first reviews have all been unanimous in their acclaim of this set.
This then is marvellous stuff, music of dazzling invention, disarming wit (and not the sort you tire of), generosity of spirit and a lust for life… Admirers of Bartók’s and Prokofiev’s piano concertos will find much here to enjoy, so too those who relish song, dance, irony and a big heart, and a composer capable of being acerbic and romantic in equal measure. To all concerned with the making of this release, take an award ... no, take several.

His six freewheeling piano concertos are often reminiscent of Poulenc, sometimes of Bernstein. No 4, recorded for the first time since its composition 20 years ago, coming in at a scant 15 minutes, is, like most of its companions, too brief a canter through the genre to regularly enter the concert repertoire. For the Sinfonia Concertante the piano is joined by three trumpets, and pianist Howard Shelley, conducting throughout, plays a second piano in the Concerto in A minor (1971). A box of surprises.
Independent on Sunday (4 stars)

This single-width double set is a real and rewarding rarity capitalising on Hyperion’s established Anglo-Australian collaboration. It should do more than any other entry in the catalogue to restore Williamson closer to the central core. Wonderful music.

Performances are very good indeed… Piers Lane and Howard Shelley are persuasive advocates for this music. Anyone who is interested in Australian music should, of course, acquire the disc, but I sincerely hope that it will also have a much wider impact and help to reinstate Williamson’s work in the concert repertoire.
International Record Review