Right from the start of his career, Richard Rodney
Bennett showed his versatility in writing works of markedly different
character. His ‘serious’ works, such as the Piano Concerto,
the orchestral Aubade and the choral-orchestral Spells,
displayed Bennett’s skills in writing serially influenced music that
was nevertheless lyrical at heart and very accessible. As the superb
Piano Concerto of 1968 amply shows, Bennett was never
a strict serialist as his fellow composers Peter Maxwell Davies and
Harrison Birtwistle were at that time. Some parts of the Piano Concerto,
e.g. the first movement, are delicately scored whereas the quicker ones
have lively dance rhythms. (By the way, why does the sleeve and cover
mentions this as Piano Concerto No.1?)
The later Concerto for Stan Getz, for
saxophone and orchestra, obviously pays homage to the American jazz
player but cleverly avoids the obvious traps in which the music might
have fallen. No pastiche here, but a deeply felt homage, again in a
quite accessible idiom.
The other pieces show the lighter side of Bennett’s
music making. The gorgeous Waltz from Murder on the Orient Express
is now world-famous and quite deservedly so, whereas the short excerpt
from Four Weddings and a Funeral is a delightful vignette
of great charm.
Bennett has repeatedly arranged well-known standards,
and his arrangement of three songs under the title Dream Sequence
was composed for inclusion in a disc compiled to mark the birth of Julian
Lloyd Webber’s son (we are not told when this was actually composed).
Light-weight stuff, maybe, but very enjoyable.
It is good to have Stephen Kovacevich’s reading of
the Piano Concerto back in the catalogue; and, with the
inclusion of the other pieces, this release is a good introduction to
or a timely reminder of Bennett’s varied but never indifferent music.
Nevertheless I find it a pity that this CD, rather short in terms of
playing time, does not include either Spells, Aubade,
Calendar or Commedia IV for brass quintet
which were recorded by ARGO many years ago and that are no longer available
at the time of writing, though Spells has been available
on CONTINUUM some time ago. If some or all these pieces had been included
rather than the film music snippets and the enjoyable, though light-weight
cello work, I think that this release would have been a much better
introduction to Bennett’s music.