This work falls into four movements. The opening Arioso pits quiet, obsessive rhythmic figures against the piano’s brief chorale-like utterances. The argument becomes more contrapuntally involved, reaching a tentative climax, before dissolving back into the hazy mood of the beginning.
The second movement, the longest of the four, is a Classically designed Scherzo and Trio. Here the piano weaves an insistent pattern of quick, cascading figures, oblivious to the short, sharp attacks of the orchestra. The Trio that follows consists of two sections: the first involves imitative games played out between piano, solo woodwind and eventually all the violins; next, after a short transition, comes a languorous waltz which winds down to near stasis. A return to the scherzo material closes the movement.
The Notturno reduces the orchestra to strings and harp and is a kind of fantasia on a Polish folk song I first heard sung, movingly, around a late-night campfire. The song’s (for me) resulting association with night-time accounts for the dreamlike and sometimes nightmarish quality of the free variations based around its melody. This theme, which is first heard adorned by a simple canon at the piano’s first entry, contains its own internal, repetitive echoes which in my version I give to the harp.
Increasingly, as the movement progresses, the harp takes on the role of the soloist’s ‘shadow’. At the close, the song in its canonic form ascends into the highest register of the piano, barely audible.
The Gigue harks back to the 6/8 dance form of the same name which, in the hands of Baroque composers, often contained contrapuntal elements – as mine does too. The woodwind’s lively fugal opening recalls the first movement’s initial obsessive figures, now expanded to full melodic status. The piano immediately counters by introducing a more cantabile theme which struggles to establish itself against the more dominant 6/8 material. A brief battle between piano and orchestra is initially won by the latter, only for the piano to launch into an explosive cadenza. This traverses the movement’s two main themes before a crash from the orchestra freezes the music into a short recollection of the Arioso chorale. The piano, left alone, wanders to the concerto’s close.Ryan Wigglesworth