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Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, October 2009

…the only available recording of the [Ferguson] Concerto was the Naxos, a very satisfactory recording…Rob Barnett recommended it with enthusiasm and I entirely share his enthusiasm for the performances…Though the Gerhard is a more approachable work than much of his music, it still sounds somewhat angular alongside the Ferguson. If the coupling appeals, however, it remains a fine bargain recommendation, also available in very good mp3 sound from…

Christopher Howell
MusicWeb International, January 2009

[Christian Darnton’s] Concertino got its first performance in South Africa…After a strident opening, what Andrew Burn describes as the "languid elegance" of the opening theme promises a work of some stature in a style vaguely reminiscent of Shostakovich. Though he tends to take refuge in noise both here and in the last movement there is a good deal more sense of purpose to this work than to Rowley's. And I was genuinely taken with the middle movement. In a sense the material is just scurrying scales against a chugging accompaniment, but it takes an original mind to say something new with such basic material. This Concertino, by the way, might make a very effective ballet score.

Roberto Gerhard has his place here on the basis of his naturalization papers—he reached England in 1939 as a refugee from Franco's Spain. All the same, I can no more think of him as British than I can think of Rachmaninov, Stravinsky or Schoenberg as American. His music in this Concerto has a passionate, burning intensity that seems authentically Spanish. By turns visionary, brooding and exultant, this piece has a fiendishly complex sound-world that nevertheless remains luminous and speaks to the listener with clarity. It must have sounded awfully modern when Mewton-Wood premiered it in 1951 yet if you were to play Falla's "Noches", his Harpsichord Concerto and this Concerto by Gerhard one after the other—who will be the first to try this on disc?—it would form a logical progression. The Concerto may enter the repertoire yet. It certainly deserves to…

Howard Ferguson's Concerto is one of his later works before his withdrawal from composition, feeling he had nothing more to say. His uncertainty is understandable. This piece veers between a neo-classicism that looks to Mozart rather than to the more usual baroque, mingling it with music of a Finzi-like poignancy. It is all very attractive but the composer's voice seems unfocussed. A clue comes about two-thirds through the second movement when a lyrical theme emerges that is as Irish as they come. Ferguson, it emerges, was really a misty-eyed, nostalgic Irishman who wanted to write like Stanford but didn't dare given the musical climate of his day. The finale has its Irish touches, too.

If the masterpiece here is the Gerhard, the disc gives us plenty to think about. All four concertos benefit from a level of playing we can't always take for granted in fringe repertoire.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Warmly lyrical, with a touch of Stravinskian neoclassicism and a dash of Shostakovich, and ending with a bravura display in the finale, Christian Darnton’s Concertino for piano and strings makes a valuable addition to this imaginative collection of four British concertos, superbly performed by Peter Donohoe directing the Northern Sinfonia from the keyboard.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Howard Ferguson wrote sparingly but with the most acute discrimination. This Concerto for Piano and Strings, written in 1951, is conceived in structure on neoclassical lines, with an opening orchestral tutti, but it follows the warmly attractive idiom that is typical of the composer, very British, with brilliant writing for the soloist, not least in the finale with its jazzy syncopations, slightly Waltonian, leading to a climax in waltz time. The central Theme and Variations comes nearer to the pastoral tradition, building up powerfully. Peter Donohoe…is the most persuasive interpreter. Well-balanced sound. An excellent, varied and imaginative coupling.

Fanfare, July 2005

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Anthony Burton
BBC Music Magazine, April 2005

“Peter Donohoe achieves miracles in delivering mountains of notes with dazzling aplomb and simultaneously directing the excellent Northern Sinfonia strings.”

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, January 2005

“The first volume in this series was a rather good version of the Bliss piano concerto. The Bliss is a leonine monument to the composer’s love affair with the romantic concerto and with the inspiration of a great virtuoso—in that case Moiseiwitsch. Donohoe was well suited to that work and he does equally well with the present mix.

The Gerhard is the work of an émigré to the UK; a refugee from Franco’s Spain. It is the most dissonant and sombre of the four works. The Diferencias middle movement winds through a dark land. The mood links with the most bleakly disconsolate music by Shostakovich. The composer’s Spanish voice rings true and clear even if the waters have turned grey and the shadows have lengthened. Donohoe makes of this movement a statement struck with foreboding: distilled and potent. The finale makes murderous play with Chabrier’s España. The concerto was premiered at Aldeburgh in 1951 by Mewton-Wood and Norman Del Mar. It has not proved the most popular of works and there have been very few broadcasts. The last one I can trace was by Angela Brownridge (soon to have her three CD set of the piano works of Kenneth Leighton issued on Delphian) with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Del Mar in April 1982.

Alec Rowley is usually thought of, if at all, as a writer of didactic pieces but in fact he wrote a small treasury of concert works. If this concerto is anything to go by his more serious pieces should be thoroughly explored. It’s a populist romantic piece which manages to shake off most of the stock gestures. Framing a pastoral Andante naif are an emphatically romantic Allegro ritmico which has that roseate nostalgic glow familiar from Constant Lambert’s Rio Grande and a final movement Allegro burlesco. This recalls the lively syncopated music from Walton’s Sinfonia Concertante mixed with Ireland’s eager freshness. Warwick Braithwaite conducted the premiere which was given by a BBC studio orchestra. The soloist in 1938 was Franz Weitzmann.

Christian Darnton’s three movement Concertino seems to have been written with one eye on Bach and another on the sardonic Prokofiev who also haunts the finale. The second movement catches the Shostakovich chill presenting its argument with chiselled clarity. The buzzing pizzicato and pecked piano notes announce a grim Mussorgskian joy. The work was once broadcast on the BBC Third Programme played by Joseph Cooper with the Kathleen Riddick conducting her own orchestra.

Howard Ferguson gave up writing music in the 1950s. His Piano Concerto falls into that part of his music that is more relaxed and celebratory. The other work in that category is his Overture for an Occasion. The music rises in a liltingly Finzian shimmer in the strings before catching echoes of both Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov (No. 3). The Vaughan Williams-like modality of the central movement also links with Rachmaninov. This was not unusual—listen to the Harty and the Stanford Second as well as to the Moeran Rhapsody No. 3. Bright-eyed and Howellsian, the allegro giovale is just that—jovial and high-spirited—a celebration of someone’s golden summer. This is not the Ferguson’s first recording. There is an equally good version on EMI Classics (Howard Shelley, CLS, Hickox). That came out in 1986. Before that there were several broadcasts including one in which Reginald Paul was the soloist and the BBC Welsh Orchestra were conducted by Rae Jenkins.

Andrew Burn contributes an ideal note giving the fullest background on each of these works and on their composers.

Donohoe was unaccountably dropped by EMI after their temporary infatuation with him in the mid to late 1970s. His set of the Tchaikovsky piano concertos and Concert Fantasy is especially strong. You can pick it up on EMI Gemini. The Donohoe-Barshai recording of the Tchaikovsky Second Concerto makes you reassess upwards any views you may have about it being second-rate. He is certainly in the company of Petukhov and Cherkassky. Donohoe can also be heard on Naxos in two Finzi works for piano and orchestra: the seraphic Eclogue and the meditative then exuberantly Waltonian Grand Fantasia and Fugue.

This series started, and has continued, very well indeed. I do hope that Donohoe will surprise and delight us with a selection of the piano concertos of Ruth Gipps, Jack Hawes, R.S. Coke, Sorabji and that fascinating ‘recidivist’ W.S. Gaze Cooper. Of course we also need good alternative versions of Bax’s two major works for piano and orchestra especially Winter Legends. Plenty of territory to cover.

Four contrasting concertos for piano with string orchestra. They are all played with surging elan and no little poetry. The style is romantic for the Ferguson and Rowley while the Gerhard and Darnton are spiced with more astringent fibre. Enthusiastically recommended.”

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