It’s surprising how many wonderful American piano concertos there are, and how woefully unknown and underperformed they are. And the three concertos presented on this CD are three of the best and most interesting, for differing reasons. Two of them, the Robert Ward and Lee Hoiby are loaded with stunningly beautiful melodies, real tunes, and that real American sound. The third, by Marc Blitzstein, is a little different but equally wonderful in its own way.
The Robert Ward Concerto for Piano and Orchestra is filled with gorgeous melodies and played stunningly by the pianist who debuted the work, Margaret Mitchell, with William Strickland conducting the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. It was commissioned by the Powder River Foundation for pianist Margaret Mitchell. Mr. Ward’s music is instantly accessible, and the piano concerto is one of his finest works. The concerto was featured on the very first Bay Cities release back in 1989 – it has been newly remastered for this release and sounds more amazing than ever.
The first performance of Lee Hoiby’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra featured John Atkins, the wonderful soloist on this recording. First issued on CD back in 1989, the third album released on Bay Cities. The Lee Hoiby concerto has beautiful and haunting themes throughout, beautifully orchestrated and sounding like a distant cousin of Rachmaninov, but with a distinctly American quality. It has also been newly remastered for this release.
And finally we have the oldest concerto of the three – Marc Blitzstein’s Piano Concerto, written in 1931 when he was only twenty-five. The piece was not premiered until 1986, when the Brooklyn Philharmonic finally brought it to the public. Prior to that it had been heard only twice and both times in a two-piano reduction. And so it remained unperformed while Blitzstein found success in musical theatre and opera. The concerto is a unique and original work, one filled with interesting ideas and unusual touches but one that is still extremely accessible and attractive. Released on CD by CRI, this has also been newly and lovingly remastered with much improved sound.
So, here we have three piano concertos, three American piano concertos, and three completely addictive piano concertos brimming with invention and beauty, in great and definitive performances. -KRITZERLAND
ROBERT WARD: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
• Adagio – Allegro
• Grave – doppio movimento
Suttgart Radio Orchestra: William Strickland, conductor, Margaret Mitchell, piano
LEE HOIBY: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
• Allegro vivo
Polish National Radio Orchestra: Jan Krenz, conductor, John Atkins, piano
MARC BLITZSTEIN: Piano Concerto
• Moderato molto
• Largo assai
• Adagio ma non troppo
The Brooklyn Philharmonic: Lukas Foss, conductor, Michael Barrett, piano