Hyperion continues its excellent survey of Constant Lambert’s fascinating music with a disc containing his first great success, Romeo and Juliet, and some interesting rarities. The Piano Concerto was conceived around 1924, when the composer was only 19 and still a student. It exists in short score, with clear indications for the intended orchestration: two trumpets, strings, and timpani, making it a close relative of the slightly later Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1. Like the later work, it has four short movements (though different in order and form), and is full of breezy melodies and that certain dry insouciance that proclaims Lambert’s connection to the Parisian world of Les Six and the Ballets Russes. It’s delightfully performed by Jonathan Plowright, who, along with David Lloyd-Jones, treats the work with plenty of high spirits and just the right light touch.
It’s also clear from the early, unperformed nine-minute ballet Prize Fight, as well as The Bird Actors Overture (which was part of the original score to Romeo and Juliet)–both well worth hearing–that Lambert was a vibrant and original talent right from the start, however sad his screwed-up personal life and untimely death ultimately were. Lloyd-Jones’ performance of the main item, Romeo and Juliet, music cut from the same cloth as Walton’s Façade, at once has greater verve and a less metrical approach to rhythm than the competing Chandos recording from Lanchberry and his Victoria (Australia) forces. This matters because the music’s somewhat relentless brightness and bustling hyperactivity can become tiresome, but with alert playing from the English Northern Phlharmonia, and typically warm sonics, that never becomes a problem here. In short: a splendid and entirely enjoyable disc through and through.