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CD Review

Constant Lambert

Early Works

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Elegaic Blues
  • Piano Concerto
  • The Bird Actors
  • Prize Fight
Jonathan Plowright, piano
English Northern Sinfonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Hyperion CDA67545 62:52
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If memory serves, this is the fourth CD that Hyperion has dedicated to Lambert's music, and it reveals what a precocious talent he was. Although regarded as an eccentric and sometimes difficult man, no one can deny the importance of his compositions, particularly in the ballet field, to which, together with Frederick Ashton and Ninette de Valois, he dedicated the greater part of his life.

During his career, he was held in high esteem by many fellow musicians with Walton and Jacob in the front rank. All the works on this disc were composed before Lambert was a mere 22 years old, and 'Elegia Blues' apart, all the other four date from the Royal College of Music period, when the composer was starting to make a name for himself.

'Roméo and Juliet' is a historic piece, as it was the first work by an English composer to be taken up by Diaghilev. premièred in Monte Carlo in May 1926, it was not a success, mainly due to the sparse set designs and the somewhat strange treatment of the story.

Still, the music is highly fresh and appealing with its 13 short movements split in two 'tableaux'. The other ballet on this programme is 'Prize Fight', a 1924 piece slightly revised in 1927. With its allusions to contemporary French composers, this short work remained unperformed and was only premièred in a BBC broadcast in May 1969. Not a show stopper, I admit but a vivid image of what goes on in a boxing match, particularly the excitement generated by a hysterical crowd.

The Piano Concerto also dates from 1924, but had to wait until 1988 to be performed after the realization of a full orchestral part by Edward Shipley and Giles Easterbrook.

Two other short, delightful works complete the programme on this album. 'The Bird Actors' Overture (1925) and 'Elegiac Blues' (1927). The notes by Stephen Lloyd are absolutely compelling, and in my opinion, must be digested before one passes on to the musical menu.

The English Northern Philharmonia and David Lloyd Jones do the works proud with interpretations that sparkle with the glitz of the era in which they were conceived. The soloist gives an assured and polished performance, worthy of the accolade that befell him when he premièred the concerto in 1988. A valuable addition to the Lambert discography, which should strongly enhance the reputation of one of England's most enigmatic musical figures of the 20th century.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech