Bennett’s Fourth Piano Concerto, a work of some strength and
substance which was widely admired in the composer’s day, re-enters
the CD catalogue.
exploring the pre-Stanford-and-Parry period of British music
will have eagerly snapped up the Lyrita
reissues of Bennett’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd,
and 5th concertos played by Malcolm Binns. They may have wondered why no. 4, which text-books
tell us is the finest, was not included. Older hands will know
that, when these recordings were first issued in the early 1990s,
a 1986 recording of the Fourth by Malcolm Binns,
with the Milton Keynes Chamber Orchestra under Hilary Davan
Wetton, was available from Unicorn-Kanchana
(UKCD 2032). Thus either contractual difficulties or sheer practical
considerations left the Lyrita “cycle” incomplete.
The two performances
take a quite different view right from the opening orchestral
is very detailed in his phrasing with a sharp response to dynamics.
With his scaled-down strings he seems to want to emphasize Bennett’s
Mozartian roots. His approach perhaps
lacks overall sweep, which is where Howard Shelley comes in.
On a bar-by-bar basis you could find him less attentive, but
he binds the individual bars into paragraphs more successfully.
There is more sense of overall structure. With his full symphony
orchestra, too, he brings the music into the world of post-Mendelssohnian
romanticism, generally to its advantage.
It might have been
interesting to hear Wetton’s approach
carried through with a pianist who felt the same way. When Binns
enters he takes a bolder but rather generalized view. He shapes
the more romantic themes attractively but, as we know from his
Stanford concerto recordings, he can be rather bashy
in fortes. His sound at the end of both outer movements is distinctly
Shelley avoids this
and also shows more imagination. He brings a vivacity to the
chromatic left-hand scales shortly after his first entry, for
instance, which creates a dialogue with the more lyrical right-hand.
This sort of perceptiveness is not noticeable in Binns. Shelley also allows himself more tempo freedom, sometimes
forging ahead impulsively. Whatever the theoretical virtues
of a more classical approach, in practice certain passages which
sound laboured from Binns emerge convincingly here. I wondered if a Cherkassky or an Earl Wild might not have teased even more
humour and scintillating verve from the finale, but pianists
of that stature have not played Sterndale
Bennett for at least a century. Shelley is sufficiently more
convincing than Binns that we can
leave in abeyance the question of whether he might have been
even better until such a performance actually turns up.
Comparisons in the
Caprice produce slightly different results. Under Nicholas Braithwaite’s
less detailed but more galvanizing baton the romantic side of
Bennett is very much to the fore. Binns’s
own pianism appears in a much more favourable light in this
context. Above all, a genuine dialogue is set up. Well as Shelley’s
pianist-conducted orchestra plays, it is hardly in the nature
of such a collaboration to create a dialogue. Perhaps because
two minds are at work, 13 minutes of unrelieved lightweight
vivacity outstay their welcome less in the Lyrita
Still, the main
thing is that we now have a good version of the Fourth Concerto
in the catalogue. It is perhaps a pity that Shelley did not
give us his views on the Third as well, which some commentators
rate above the Fourth. Instead we have a concerto which shows
us just how good Bennett was.
Francis Edward Bache
belongs to a considerable group of British composers – Hurlstone,
Coleridge-Taylor, Baines and Butterworth are others that spring
to mind – whose early deaths perhaps robbed us of a major figure.
Certain of Bache’s shorter piano pieces, and also the Piano
Trio, show evidence of considerable potential, as well as a
greater opening towards “progressive” continental contemporaries
than we find in Bennett or in British music generally at this
time. But this concerto, which may never have been performed
before, is more of a fun piece, with an unashamedly vulgar second
subject in the first movement and a finale that looks ahead
to Sullivan as much as it looks back to Mendelssohn. The slow
movement is perhaps the highlight, with an operatic main theme
that might have strayed in from Balfe
and some attractive decoration from the pianist. I feel Shelley
pitches into this main theme a bit too heartily. More poetry
might be extracted from the movement, and indeed emerges when
the theme passes to the solo cello. For the rest, he does what
can be done and it’s quite entertaining if you don’t expect
notes in three languages and excellent recording.
see also Review
by John France
Bennett Piano Concertos: reviews
Concertos 1 &
3, Caprice, Binns/LPO/Braithwaite Lyrita SRCD
by Colin Clarke
Concertos 2 &
5, Adagio, Binns/Philharmonia/Braithwaite Lyrita
by Colin Clarke