Perhaps inevitably, given the cultural mores, Richard Rodney Bennett is likely to be remembered for the more frivolous or lightweight end of his large output - the film scores and the jazz and cabaret pieces he seemed to grow fonder of as he got older. Bennett the Darmstadt student or hardcore Boulez pupil has to some degree already been relegated to a historical footnote, and serious works, like many of those heard on these three discs, re-released by Metronome to mark Bennett's death last Christmas, are likely to be lost in the clamour to re-hear his Oscar-nominated but Sondheim-meets-Lehár soundtracks to Sixties and Seventies films or his run-of-the-mill Christmas songs. For better or for worse - mainly the latter - Chandos, to name one prominent label, have recorded CDs both of the film music (CHAN 9867
) and of Bennett self-indulgently crooning his way through a selection of his own and others' easy-listening 'classics' (CHAN 10411).
On the other hand, Chandos have also showcased Bennett qua
composer of great imagination and versatility, with recordings of his uncompromising Gothic opera, Mines of Sulphur
(CHSA 5036) and a disc of orchestral works (CHAN 10389), the latter auspiciously labelled 'volume 1'. One of the best recent releases elsewhere of his art music is by Clarinet Classics (CC0064, review
The three discs' worth of solo and duo piano music performed by the ever-reliable Martin Jones with and without Richard McMahon form a small but not insignificant portion of Bennett's legacy. There is one more Metronome CD, rather grandly billed the 'complete works for piano and orchestra', amounting in fact to just over half an hour's worth: the lusty Piano Concerto (also on Lyrita
) and the light-hearted Party Piece
. Two piano-free works bulk up the running time.
The potential problems of an all-inclusive project like this are two-fold: first, that there will likely be some pieces that make for less than compelling listening; second, incongruities. On the solo piano volume there are several examples of the former - short pieces like the Impromptus
or Taking a Line for a Walk
that are attractive but hardly memorable. On the piano duos disc there are examples of the latter - the spiky Capriccio
wedged between the gentle Suite for Skip and Sadie
(Bennett's cats) and a suite of children's nursery rhymes, Over the Hills and Far Away
, with the latter itself followed by the atonal Kandinsky Variations
, in turn preceding the blues/ragtime jazz trivia of Four Piece Suite
On the other hand, at least there can be no doubt concerning the scope of the composer's piano-writing skills, and there truly is a Bennett for all tastes, even - in the Kandinsky Variations
and Five Studies
- for those wanting to believe the latterly unlikely idea that Bennett was once a student of Boulez! With very few exceptions, the worst that can be said about Bennett's music is that it is a pleasant way to spend some time. Suites of musical amuse-bouches
and A Week of Birthdays
come into this category, their evocative rhythms and harmonies recognisable to 20th-century musicians of all persuasions. Indeed, virtually all Bennett's piano music, frequently written in a dark-tinged tonal/atonal hybrid idiom, should appeal to admirers of the likes of Scriabin, Granados or Prokofiev.
Overall, these recordings are ideal for anyone hoping to find a musician of depth and integrity behind all the showbiz glitz and gimcrack. A few works, like the Three Romantic Pieces
, the Fantasy
and Kandinsky Variations
, even the ragtime-derived Noctuary
, deserve to be in every serious pianist's repertory.
Martin Jones is in top form, ably assisted by Richard McMahon. Sound quality is very good throughout. The booklet does its job too, intelligent notes by Jones himself for the solo works, Geraint Lewis for the duos.
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