Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Alec Rowley: Piano Concerto in D major

For those of us who have learnt to play the piano over the last half century the name of Alec Rowley will be extremely familiar. Even today, when I visit the second-hand music shops in Kelvinside and Fishergate in Glasgow and York respectively, I am amazed at the number of volumes of music by this composer that are always available. I have managed to build a small collection of his easier pieces. I doubt that there is much in print these days, but historically there are reams of miniatures and teaching pieces available to the interested explorer and collector. 
It was not until about a decade or so ago that I realised that Mr Rowley had a serious side to him - that is until I inherited an album of organ works. None of these are for neophytes and all of them seem to be interesting examples of the 'between the wars' genre. However I will always remember him for two salon pieces – Witchery and Hornpipe – both for piano. I still play these at least once a month!
I listened to the Concerto again on Monday whilst travelling up to London. I have known about this piece for a wee while and have ‘plonked' my way through the score. However, until Naxos released this work about three years ago, I had not heard it. And what a pleasure it is: it is a fine discovery and deserves its place in the repertoire.
The work received its premier in a BBC broadcast way back in 1938. It is scored for soloist and strings; however there are optional parts for timpani and percussion. This is the version recorded on the Naxos release. From the very first note, we are in the presence of a delightful work. Forget anyone who says that it relies heavily on Delius or Britten or Cyril Scott. This is an original concerto that is well scored and has ‘a breezy, open-air freshness about it’ that is both charming and satisfying. The work is well constructed, with the opening of the last movement mirroring the introduction to the first. My only criticism is that this concerto is too short! But Naxos and Mr Donohoe please note, there is another Piano Concerto and Three Idylls for Piano and Orchestra just begging to be recorded!
Piano Concerto in D major on Naxos


Nick said...

At a book fair last year I picked up Rowley's OWN complete archive of all his published music which ran to some 70 bound volumes. As you say the quantity is extraordinary but I have to say the quality too. Whether the teaching pieces which are apt and charming or the more serious works he was evidently a master craftsman. Also, fascinating to see what a "publishing gypsy" he was over the years - some published by just about every company conceivable including French.

Paul said...

I also love this work very much and am saddened by it's unfamiliarity in middle America. Where did you locate the score? My piano teacher spoke of performing it only to discover it is not commercially sold in the US. We even contacted Peter Donohoe and were told of he didn't even know, save for the copy he used that was the original first edition.

John France said...


I viewed the score in the Royal College of Music!!!


Paul said...

I meant to report that I played the first concerto several times last year in Oklahoma and Arizona and will offer the printed score in 2013. It was great fun!