Benjamin Lees, Piano Concerto No. 1. Joseph Bloch, Piano; National
Orchestral Association, John Barnett cond. Live 1963 performance.
Ernest Gold. Piano Concerto. Marisa Regules, Piano. National
Orchestral Association, Leon Barzin cond. Live 1945 performance. 27:05.
Pierian Recording Society 0010, issued 2003.
Benjamin Lees, now 81 years of age, is perhaps best known for his 4th
Symphony "Memorial Candles," which premiered in 1985 (Reviewed by Steve
Schwartz at http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/n/nxs59002a.html
and by Raymond Tuttle at
Lees' first piano concerto, one of his earliest works, dates from 1955
when it was performed in Vienna, where Lees was enjoying a Guggenheim
fellowship and where he met the conductor Charles Adler, a friend of
George Antheil with whom Lees had studied. The pianist was Alexander
Jenner. This was the first work by an American ever to premiere in
Vienna and the event was covered by Time Magazine. The pianist Joseph
Bloch played the work two years later in both Indianapolis and Helsinki,
and in New York in 1964.
Stylistically, Lees' concerto shares the same sound world as some of
Prokofiev's works. From me, that is a strong endorsement, as I love the
music of both composers, combining as they do strong rhythmic and melodic
elements. And, as there has not exactly been an excess of writing in
the piano concerto form during the past half century, this recording is
In the usual three movements-of roughly equal length, with the opening
movement only about a minute longer then the others-Lees gives us bravura
piano writing, a very lyrical and melodic "adagio maestoso," and a finale
which, after opening with a clarinet solo, is loud, fierce, driving,
pounding and syncopated-also perky. He has some strong even beats also.
You might not want to play this late in the evening. Some new concert
performances are long overdue.
The recorded sound in the Lees shows its age, but is not bad. It is a
clean sound, without hiss or anything like that; you hear only the music.
Ernest Gold's concerto is quite different from Lees' and the sound is
audibly two decades older, which puts it in the historic realm. It
sounds like an old film soundtrack, in fact, and much of the music itself
has a Hollywood sound to it. As it happens, Gold, who also studied with
Antheil, wrote the scores for several major films, including Exodus, On
the Beach, Judgment at Nuremburg and Ship of Fools.
Bright, lively and upbeat, dramatically full-blown rather than subtle,
but with some mellow and lyrical writing, sometimes jazzy, Gold's concerto
sometimes reminds me of Gershwin. The first movement contains a second
theme which the recording annotator says "might be best described as
sumptuous." The second movement concludes with a woodwind solo beautiful
enough to have evoked applause at this point from the recorded audience.
The finale is pleasurably vigorous.
The Pierian Recording Society is a small not-for-profit label devoted
to "the preservation of historic performances and obscure repertoire."
I think they should qualify that last adjective with "undeservedly."
Copyright 2006 by R. James Tobin