Williamson: Piano Concertos – No 1 in A major; No 2 in F sharp minor; No 3 in E flat major; No 4 in D major; Concerto for two pianos and string orchestra; Sinfonia concertante in F sharp major

Reviewed on Thu 26 Jun, 2014

Born in Sydney, Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) was a prolific and (at least initially) highly regarded figure in British music after his permanent move to the UK in 1953. Not only did he succeed Arthur Bliss as Master of the Queen's Music in 1975, he was also a notably accomplished pianist and, as this exemplary release amply demonstrates, wrote with supreme understanding for the instrument. The first two numbered concertos (from 1957 and 1960 respectively) prove ebullient, compact and crowd-pleasing discoveries, but it's the large-scale, urgently communicative Third (1971) that yields the most durable rewards here – a four-movement work with real personality and substance to it. There are also considerable pleasures to be had from the late Fourth Concerto (completed in 1994 when he had faded from public view – this is, in fact, its world premiere). Both the pithy Sinfonia Concertante (1958-62) and Two-Piano Concerto (1971) wear a rather more astringent demeanour but are by no means unapproachable. Prospective purchasers can rest assured that performances, recordings and presentation are all out of the top drawer. For sheer enterprise, this magnificent Hyperion set really does take some beating.
–Andrew Achenbach