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Malcolm Williamson’s Piano Concertos Nos.1-4 on Hyperion

Williamson, a London-based Australian, had the worst attack of composer’s block in modern times. Appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 1975, he failed to deliver new pieces in time for royal occasions, or much else of performable quality, until his death in 2003.

He had been, before that, moderately successful. He took his language from middle-period Stravinskywith occasional nods to Boulez as if to show he knew what was going on around him. His music was tuneful, well-made and warmhearted. Williamson wrote six concertos for his instrument, the piano, two with string ensemble, four with full orchestra. The chance to hear them performed as a series is intriguing, the more so by a pianist of Piers Lane’s sensitivity.

The disappointment is to hear how little Williamson changed, or learned, from his first concerto in 1957 to his last in 1993. Themes are evenly paced, the dynamics are depressingly constant and mood contrasts few and far between. The most engaging work is a two-piano concerto in A minor from 1971, where four hands add a dash of tension and the central Lento movement is genuinely arresting. The strings of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra could do with extra polish and the recording balance with better focus. Williamson deserves to be heard more, in better works and playing conditions.

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