The “Scottish Ballad” is one of Britten’s early works, preceding the lone “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” by about four years. Written in 1941 while the young composer was staying in Califronia, it received its premiere performance on November 28 in Cincinnati. For several years the work was included in the repertoire of Clifford Curzon and Britten when performing as a duo-pianist team. Featuring brilliantly written solo parts, the “Ballad” is in one movement, divided into three smaller sections. A whipcracking version of the Highland reel in which the pianos and orchestra try to outdo and outfun each other in virtuosity concludes the work.
Inspired by the talents and influence of the acclaimed pianists Pierre Luboschutz and Genia Nemenoff, the “Two-Piano Concerto”, composed by Bohuslav Martinu in New York in 1943, is fiendishly difficult, inflected with a kind of cataclysmic glee. The rapid toccata-like fire of the first and third movements contrasts with the power-in-repose mesmerism of the second.