Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series reaches its 70th album with this program of three concertos by women. The ongoing success of the series suggests that audiences are ready and waiting for wider repertoire, and pianist Danny Driver and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Rebecca Miller deliver a real find here. The Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op. 45, of American composer Amy Beach has been performed and recorded, but it's been in search of a recording that captures the autobiographical quality of the work, well sketched out in the booklet notes by Nigel Simeone. Essentially, Beach faced creative repression from her religious mother and to a lesser extent from her husband, who allowed her to compose, but only rarely to perform. These experiences, it may be said, poured out in this towering Brahmsian, four-movement piano concerto, which sets up an unusual quality of struggle between soloists and orchestra. It's this dynamic that's so well captured by Driver and Miller (who happen to be married to each other). Sample the opening movement, which has lacked this quality in earlier performances.
The second CD by Philip Johnston's Big Trouble is jazz mixing great musicianship with a touch of madness. He treats Steve Lacy's "Hemline" as if it were penned by Raymond Scott (whose music was adapted for classic Looney Tunes cartoons) and "Bone" sounds like a wild improvisation on a childhood chant. Pianist Joe Ruddick's "Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken" has a nifty calypso beat with an intense cacophony of reeds and brass. Johnston is also a gifted composer; his "Pontius Pilate Polka" blends folk dances with swinging Dixieland interludes. "Mr. Crocodile" is a light samba with a touch of reggae. Highly recommended for fans of the great melting pot of jazz.