My programme note for the first and subsequent performances of my Piano Concerto [No. 1] was very brief and to the point: ‘The Concerto is in three movements and lasts about thirty-five minutes. It is scored for full orchestra, but with only three (and not four) horns!’
The first movement is constructed in a rather loose sonata form, and after a brooding introduction the piano leads into a floating melody that is the main subject of the movement. The return of the introductory material signals the recapitulation section. There is no extended cadenza. The second movement is in three ‘statements’, each introduced by solo piano. As a whole, the Concerto has no key signature, but this movement ends with a coda written in the key of G major. The finale is a rondo. The opening theme alternates with a second subject, which is markedly slower. Towards the end of the movement both themes are heard together, before the briefest piano cadenza heralds the coda with its reference to the main theme of the first movement.
The work was commissioned by Anne Johnson and Richard Robbins in memory of their parents, Lionel and Iris Robbins. The pianist in the first performance in 1997 was Julian Evans, who also gave the work its second London performance (at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in June 2000), both of which were with the New London Orchestra. The work was included in the twentieth birthday concert for the NLO at the Cadogan Hall in 2009, when the soloist was Leon McCawley.
The piece was, in fact, my first large-scale non-choral composition, and I had in mind the romantic concertos of the nineteenth century. The interplay between piano and orchestra conjures up the sound of those large romantic works, but the musical language nods in the direction of more recent concertos. The great British piano concertos of Rawsthorne (particularly), Ireland, Bliss, Rubbra and Tippett probably hovered in the background as I wrote my own, but the main theme of the finale is surely influenced by the bravura melodies of Shostakovich.
After the first performance, Robert Matthew-Walker wrote in Musical Opinion that, ‘this work is possibly the most winningly successful British piano concerto of the last forty years or so.’ He went on to say, ‘I look forward to hearing this work again. It should be recorded.’ It has taken a while, but now it has been!
© Ronald Corp, 2009