Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (SACD)

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Dame Sarah Connolly, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, John Wilson

Bennett had a gift for human relationships – family, partners, friends, and fellow artists. Occasionally, his personal loyalty could become an obstacle to his creativity but overwhelmingly, his relationships were an inspiration.

Each of the four works recorded here has connections to a significant individual in his life. The composition of his First Symphony coincided with the arrival in his life of Dan Klein, who would become his long-term partner. Zodiac is dedicated to the composer Elisabeth Lutyens, whose music and personality Bennett cherished throughout his life, despite her often caustic manner. A History of the Thé Dansant sets poems by his older sister, the poet Meg Peacocke, and doubles as a perceptive but unsentimental memoir of their long-dead parents. And Reflections on a Sixteenth Century Tune is dedicated to the conductor John Wilson, with whom Bennett shared a musical connection that deepened into a true and lasting friendship.

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Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012):

Symphony No. 1

1. I. Allegro - Tempo, vivace - L'istesso tempo - Poco sostenuto - Tempo I - Poco meno mosso, maestoso - Poco lento - Tempo I
2. II. To D.K.: Andante - A tempo, con moto - Agitato - A tempo [con moto] - Tempo I - Poco stringendo - A tempo, poco meno - Meno mosso
3. III. Molto vivace - Un poco meno - [ - ] - Meno mosso, poco rubato - Tempo I

A History of the Thé Dansant (version for mezzo-soprano and orchestra)

4. No. 1. Foxtrot
5. No. 2. Slow Foxtrot
6. No. 3. Tango

Reflections on a 16th Century Tune

7. Prelude: Lento -
8. Variation 1: Allegretto - Con moto - Come prima
9. Variation 2: Allegro vivo - Non troppo allegro - Poco a poco rilassando
10. Variation 3, "Homage to Peter Warlock": Andante - Pochissimo più mosso
11. Variation 4: Con brio e ritmico - Sempre più animato - Molto vivo e ritmico
12. Finale: [ - ] - Tranquillo - Sempre più moderato - Sostenuto


13. Ritornello 1: Con fuoco
14. Aries: Stesso tempo
15. Taurus: Appassionato
16. Gemini: Scherzando
17. Ritornello 2: Vivo
18. Cancer: Adagio (doppio valore)
19. Leo: Agitato, pochissimo più mosso
20. Virgo: Calmo
21. Ritornello 3: Vivo
22. Libra: Maestoso
23. Scorpio: Con malizia
24. Sagittarius: Appassionato, poco a poco meno mosso
25. Ritornello 4: Vivo (doppio movimento)
26. Capricorn: Grotesco
27, Aquarius: Declamato
28. Pisces: Presto - Feroce
29. Ritornello 5: Con fuoco

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Four styles, one composer: the eclectic Sir Richard



Sir Richard Rodney Bennett(1936-2012) was one of the most stylistically diverse composers of the 20th Century. I first became aware of him on hearing the languid Ravel-like waltz accompanying the departing train in his film score of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express(1974). As a young composer he studied with Pierre Boulez and wrote in a 12-tone idiom, notably in his first two symphonies and Piano Concerto, but at the same time wrote a ballet score for jazz band,Jazz Calendar. A fine jazz pianist, he left England and relocated permanently to New York in 1979. There, while still composing, he began a career as a cabaret artist. A series of recordings of Bennett's orchestral music was begun on the Chandos label but was cut short by the death of the conductor Richard Hickox. This is the third volume in a brand new series conducted by John Wilson(who was a friend of the late composer).

Bennett's wide-ranging influences are clearly set out here. Symphony No. 1, despite its atonality, is influenced strongly by the music of William Walton. The last movement especially exhibits that Waltonian rhythmic attack, and the dazzlingly bright orchestral texture bears little resemblance to the Viennese school. The slow movement, the emotional centre of the piece, is effectively moving: it was dedicated to Bennett's lifelong partner Dan Klein.

Bennett wrote Zodiac(1975-76) as a tribute to his friend and mentor, the composer Elizabeth Lutyens. This orchestral suite also employs Schönberg's serial method, but combines it with a light and attractive French style of orchestration.

In the much later setting of three poems by the composer's sister Meg Peacocke(A History of the Thé Dansant), it's not Schönberg who comes to mind but one of his pupils: Kurt Weill. The bluesy second poem ("Slow Foxtrot") and the third ("Tango") might have come straight out of Weill's Threepenny Opera. They get a sleek performance here from mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly.

In contrast again, Reflections on a Sixteenth Century Tune (specifically, a song by Josquin des Prés) is a work for strings that betrays Bennett's English roots, and holds its own with the many great string orchestra pieces composed in Britain last century. It contains a hint of the pastoral, notably the third variation which is a homage to Peter Warlock.

This is all highly attractive music, and Wilson - whose Copland series is also compelling - coaxes refined sound and exciting playing from the BBC Scottish Orchestra. Chandos's sound is predictably top notch. 5 STARS