ARTHUR BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Vol. 1 Tall Poppies Benjamin series: The solo piano music:
|Jamaican Rumba (1945)
Fantasies I (1933)
Pastorale, Arioso and Finale (1948)
Fantasies II (1933)
Saxophone blues (1929)
|Three New Fantasies (1933?)
Odds and Ends I (1925)
Haunted House (1945)
Odds and Ends II (1925)
Lets go hiking (1936)
Brumas Tunes (1945)
Elegiac Mazurka (1942)
Ian Munro (piano)
rec July/Oct 1996
TALL POPPIES TP105
In much the same way that Sindings fame is rooted in The
Rustle of Spring so Arthur Benjamins renown is founded on the
Jamaican Rumba. In fact he was a composer of much broader
accomplishment. There are several operas including the grandest of grand
operas: A Tale of Two Cities written for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Other
works of some moment and gravity are the hyper-romantic wartime Symphony
with its Prokofiev resonances, a dark Viola Sonata (also extant as a Concerto)
and a simply glorious Romantic Fantasy for violin, viola and orchestra. The
latter has been in the catalogues for many years in an RCA recording with
Heifetz, Primrose, the RCA SO conducted by Izler Solomon. However one of
these days (if the Gods smile!) some way will be found to release the version
played to eager perfection by the de Pasquale brothers with the Philadelphia
Orchestra conducted by Ormandy.
Benjamin is fortunate having Ian Munro (who also provides the notes for this
disc) as the first pianist to pursue his star with such dedication. Munro
is an adaptable and sensitive pianist with reserves of technical skill always
at the service of Benjamins art rather than his own aggrandisement.
It seems a natural progression from this recording that he should move on
to record the two works for piano and orchestra: Concerto Quasi Una Fantasia
and the Piano Concertino. I have my fingers crossed.
However to the task in hand. Tall Poppies are a firm to be watched. With
little publicity they have ploughed an individualists furrow and have
reaped a rewarding harvest. They have teamed up with Ian Munro to produce
a Benjamin series and it is to be hoped that this disc and the chamber music
one will not be the final entries in the lists.
Benjamin was himself a pianist of considerable accomplishment. He left his
native Australia to study in London there making friends with Ivor Gurney
and Herbert Howells amongst many others in the RCM Stanford milieu. His music
can be thought of as related to the same school. Inevitably his Rumba is
here and it is given a swanky performance. The Scherzino recalls Medtner
and Rachmaninov and it is the latter whose voice is heard amid the stilly
waters of the Siciliana. Chinoiserie is showy and rattles with off-key clangour
taking in perspectives afforded by Prokofievs Visions Fugitives and
the gentler Stravinsky.
The Suite encompasses movements that ripple and rush head over heels, light
of touch, Ravelian - just this side of a tranquil dream. There are even
suggestions of Constant Lambert (he premiered Lamberts Piano Concerto).
All ends in lofty splendour.
These pieces are very varied in mood. Lightly Handelian (a touch of Grainger
along the way), the quickstep tramp of Prokofiev, zestful, playful and in
the final Fantasy of the New Fantasies a delicate portrait of water spouts
romantically scented and developing a central song expansive amplitude. The
Romance-Impromptu is a brief simple-seeming romantic song. A number of the
pieces (Brumas Tunes and Lets Go Hiking - a 1930s redolence if ever
there was one) seem to be didactic but they never lack for life and experience
of living. In the Haunted House we are treated to a wrong note
grotesque march and some moody chimes at midnight Benjamin was,
after all, a film composer. The second set of Odds and Ends includes
a sad Negro Song, a Baxian Legend and a breezily ebullient Baxian march.
The CD ends with the Elegiac Mazurka - a sultry homage to Paderewski.
Perhaps you already pride yourself on having the Chandos collection of
Howells piano music or the Moeran, Goossens or Bax piano music or the
Ireland or Mayerl CDs. If so track down a copy of this disc. The idiom is
similar without being a slavish facsimile.
See also Volume 2
BENJAMIN - AUSTRALIAN SYMPHONIST by Rob Barnett
Both discs are available in the UK from Seaford Music.
phone +44 (0) 1323 732553
fax +44 (0) 1323 417455
24 Pevensey Road
East Sussex BN21 3HP
or if in difficulty you can contact the ever-helpful Tall Poppies direct:-
Tall Poppies Records
PO Box 373
Glebe NSW 2037