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Sir Richard Rodney BENNETT
(b. 1936)
Film Music: Murder on the Orient Express; Far from the Madding Crowd; Tender is the Night; Four Weddings and a Funeral; Enchanted April; Lady Caroline Lamb
Rumon Gamba conducting the BBC Philharmonic
CHANDOS CHAN 9867 [69:45]

It is amazing to think that Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, knighted in 1998 for his services to music has written so much music: orchestral works, quartets, concertos, symphonies, operas, ballets, songs, madrigals, jazz pieces and much more - all totalling over 600 items! He has scored over 50 films (including some documentaries in the earlier part of his career). This album comprises a fair cross-section.

Usually we only hear Bennett's celebrated waltz from Murder on the Orient Express so the eleven-minute suite from the 1974 Academy Award nominated score is most welcome. Gamba, aided by Chandos's superbly dynamic and detailed sound, gives a thrilling reading of this glittering, sophisticated music for the smart set travelling on a mission to kill, on Europe's premier train. The music reflects the styles of that hedonistic era between the two world wars: waltzes, tangos and music played in the salon style. There is, as to be expected, an element of murky mystery and swift violence; but there is appealing elegiac material too. But overall, there is the glamour and urgency of the great powerful train itself.

From international sophistication, the prograame turns to a smaller world of rural romantic tragedy and to John Schlesinger's 1967 film of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd starring Julie Christie, Peter Finch, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp. Although the film had mixed reviews, Bennett's score was Oscar-nominated. Bennett wrote some beguiling pastoral themes, notably the poignant Bathsheba love theme. Opposed to this delicacy, is some very astringent, harsh, dissonant folk-like material that underlies the cruel reality of rural life like the loss of the shepherd's (Bates) flock of sheep (they throw themselves over the edge of a cliff) leaving him penniless and unable to pursue his love, Bathsheba. There is also bravado music for the proud, womanising soldier (Stamp), counterbalanced with elegiac material and music that, in its sense of chill isolation, recalls Holst's Egdon Heath.

Bennett has arranged his music for the 1972 film Lady Caroline Lamb as an elegy for orchestra and that Cinderella of the orchestra, the viola. His music for this film, which was about Lady Caroline Lamb's disastrous obsessive love for the poet Lord Byron, is distinguished by a very appealing tender romantic melody that is redolent of the Lady's yearning. The work is presented in two movements. Before the love theme is stated in the first of these, there is headlong skittish, neurotic music portraying the rash, foolish woman. Afterwards comes some comically ironical military music of some pomposity which includes (Lady Lamb's?) sighs before the mood darkens - perhaps signifying Lady Lamb's encroaching madness. The second movement reprises the love music, which becomes the theme for a set of variations: some dreamily nocturnal, some passionate, some troubled. Philip Dukes is a sensitive and refined soloist.

Cynthia Miller adds an ethereal touch, playing her ondes martenot for Bennett's Enchanted April score. This 1991 Merchant Ivory production dealt with the lives and loves of a handful of English ladies spending an idyllic month in an Italian villa. Accordingly, Bennett responded with a mellow nostalgic score, in which the ondes martenot transports the characters, and us, away from the ordinary, everyday world - to somewhere that is extraordinary and enchanted. His music is very delicate, atmospheric and impressionistic; and very reminiscent of both Debussy and Ravel (Ravel in Chinoiserie mode). At one point this delicate fantasy is grounded by the strains of Elgar's Chanson de matin played on a cor anglais but the peaceful idyllic mood is soon reinstated. A lovely work that perhaps is too fragile for its 19-minute length.

The concert is completed by two shorter works: the Nicole's haunting theme from the 1985 TV production, Tender is the Night, although I would argue that this is not its premiere recording for I remember hearing it the soundtrack recording I purchased at that time. I would also argue that Nicole was rehabilitated by the man she married and it was the strain of that work which caused his destruction! The concluding item is the touching and plaintive love theme for Four Weddings and a Funeral that tended to be overshadowed by more familiar pop source music.

Gamba leads the BBC Philharmonic in committed, romantic performances. A delightful album and strongly recommended.

Ian Lace

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