The quiet beauty of Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps concertos

Somm has done a real service to classical music with this release. It features piano concertos by two women — composers who deserve wider audiences. Both compositions by Dora Bright and one of the two Ruth Gipps works are world premiere recordings. All four works are beautifully constructed and enthusiastically performed.

Dora Bright was born in 1864, though her compositional career didn’t take off until the turn of the century. Although she wrote several substantial works, only a few of her scores survive.

Bright was also a concert pianist — highly regarded by Franz List and Georges Enescu among others. Her 1891 Piano Concerto No. 1 fully exploits the possibilities of the instrument in a thoroughly original fashion. Against the fashion of the day, Bright’s concerto begins softly and eases into the opening theme.

Her melodies have a poignant fin de siècle quality about them. Bright’s flowing harmonies make some unexpected twists and turns. Bright demands much of the soloist, and those challenges make this a thrilling work despite the lack of blatant fireworks.

Her Variations for Piano and Orchestra have a quiet beauty about them. I imagine it’s what Gerald Finzi might have written had he been born a generation earlier. Bright’s inventiveness is subtle — the melody changes and grows, but never loses the listener in a sea of notes.

Pianist Samatha Ward is a sympathetic interpreter. She brings out the lyrical nature of Bright’s music without diluting any of its understated power.

Murray McLachlan is the soloist for the two Ruth Gipps selections. Gipps, a student of Ralph Vaughan Williams, is more overtly English in her style than Bright. McLachlan brings out the warmth of that style in his performance.

Ambarvalia, Op. 70 is an interesting work for orchestra. Gipps wrote for a stripped-down ensemble (but bigger than a chamber orchestra). It reminded me somewhat of Gustav Holst, especially his contemplative sections of “The Planets.” Ambarvalia was written in 1988, so it’s somewhat old-fashioned. No matter. It’s a wonderfully-crafted orchestral gem of introspective beauty.

Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps
Samantha Ward, Murry McLachlan, pianos
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Charles Peebles, conductor
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 273

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