CD review: Howell/Beach/Chaminade piano concertos

First published in the Guardian on 2 March, 2017

Howell/Beach/Chaminade: piano concertos
Danny Driver/BBCSSO/Miller

When Amy Beach (1867-1944) was a child in New England, her mother banned her from playing the piano in public until she turned 16. Strict Calvinism didn’t smile on girl prodigies. When she married at 18, her husband allowed her a concert per year, so instead she composed. Her Piano Concerto has the heft and torrent of music that needs to be written and Danny Driver plays it with clarity and steel, absolutely unsentimental but flecked through with empathy. The second movement might have revealed some more delicate orchestral shimmer — it sounds here like a chastely buttoned Ravel — but the sturdy weft Rebecca Miller gets from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra generally suits Beach’s broad-stitch writing. This release (volume 70 of Hyperion’s whopping Romantic Piano Concerto series) is timed for International Women’s Day and also includes Dorothy Howell’s D Minor Concerto, a gracious throwback written in 1923, and the Concertstuck by Cecile Chaminade. Ambroise Thomas liked her music: “this is not a woman who composes,” he declared, “but a composer who is a woman.”