Richard Rodney BENNETT (b.1936)

Clarinet Chamber Music - A Birthday Tribute
Duo Concertante (2009) [10:29]
Sonatina for solo clarinet (1982) [7:53]
Troubadour Music (2009) [4:39]
Scena III (1979) [10:12]
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (1992) [17:18]
Sonata for Bass Clarinet and Piano (1999) (transc. Richard Ralph, 2011) [16:19]
Travel Notes for wind quartet (1976) [4:38]
Ballad in memory of Shirley Horn (2005) [7:11]
Victoria Soames Samek (clarinets); Michael Bell (piano); Inspirity String Quartet; East Winds
rec. Keele University Chapel, Staffs, 12-15 July 2010. DDD

Richard Rodney Bennett is 75 and this disc is a celebration of his birthday.

While there are quite a few CDs he has not exactly been spoilt. It is worth mentioning the Decca British Music Collection which included his Kovacevich-played piano concerto also reissued with other works on Lyrita, his choral music on Collegium, the works for piano and orchestra (Metronome) and his 1975 Three Choirs extravaganza Spells. John Harle was recorded by Decca in the Saxophone Concertos written in memory Stan Getz. Heinrich Schiff was the soloist in his major score Sonnets to Orpheus premiered in Manchester by the Hallé and Loughran in 1980. If the Caroline Lamb - Elegy was succulent, the Viola Concerto, premiered by Roger Best was a tougher proposition – very much out of his unforgiving concert world glossary. Koch International issued a CD (3-7341-2) of his Violin Concerto and Third Symphony which share the same style sheet. His Britten-dedicated opera The Mines of Sulphur with Glimmerglass forces is on Chandos CHSA 5036(2). The same company has produced an orchestral volume with the Partita (1995), Reflections on a Sixteenth Century Tune (1999), Songs before Sleep (2002-03) and Reflections on a Scottish Folk Song for cello and orchestra (2004) (CHAN 10389).

Bennett first swam into my field of vision with his EMI LP of the Constant Lambert piano concerto and piano solos from the 1920s. Then came his June 1977 Snape Maltings cabaret recitals with Elizabeth Montgomery. You’re close to that world with CHAN 10411 in which he sings and accompanies himself. The there’s his score for Lady Caroline Lamb – succulent and piercingly poignant music of the English pastoral. There was an EMI LP (CSD3728) of Peter Marks playing a concert work for viola and orchestra based on that music – the so-called Elegy. Carl Davis occupied the same territory in his superb BBCTV score for The Mayor of Casterbridge. Bennett continued this vein in the music for Far >From the Madding Crowd (on Chandos but also complete OST score on Chapter III) but trounced himself with the classic Poirot film Murder on the Orient Express. Like Benjamin Frankel he has been able to compartmentalise his music for cinema from that for the concert hall. The latter presents a more intransigent and thorny face though is by no means rebarbative.

Duo Concertante (2009) is angular and mercurial fantastic. Its capering wizardry is rather like the wild careering of the tenor song Tom O’Bedlam which seems to reach out towards Peter Maxwell Davies’s Mad King. The Sonatina for solo clarinet (1982) features more of the same with wild and plunging extremes but relaxing to become plangent and mournful. Troubadour Music (2009) is more greenly pastoral giving the lie to my claimed divide between concert works and cinema. Has found lyricism again with parallels linking to Howells and Butterworth. Scena III (1979): we can tell from the date that this is back in the territory of the Sonatina. That high-piping fanfaring and chased down urgency suggests the chaste shiver of the solo clarinet in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The Quintet for Clarinet and Strings returns to the lyrical heartland - green, shimmering and not at all difficult. This is by no means invertebrate lyricism – it has a skeleton and structuring rather than a proclivity for meandering rumination. The alert finale is full of good barbed ideas. The Sonata for Bass Clarinet and Piano (1999, 2011) leans on a tougher gawky dissonance. The Travel Notes for wind quartet (1976) is, by contrast, all Poulencian sauntering. There are sunny promenades (In An Air Balloon); same goes for In A Bath Chair. We get frilly madness à la Satie and Ibert for In A Helicopter – utterly charming and heart warming. Car Chase is more Maurice Chevalier than Dick Dastardly. Finally Ballad in memory of Shirley Horn (2005) is a reflection of Bennett’s life-long and much loved entanglement with jazz and cabaret. This is all smokily ochreous melancholy with its intensely sustained atmosphere rounded with a sleep.

The note is by Paul Harris and there is a brief introduction by the man himself. A longer introduction is furnished by the clarinettist at the centre of this celebration the highly skilled and empathetic Victoria Soames Samek.

MusicWeb international salute Richard Rodney Bennett and wishes him well. This collection is a worthy and generously proportioned gift to the composer and to us.

Rob Barnett

A worthy and generously proportioned gift to the composer and to us.