Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Jamaican Rumba
Vol. 1 Tall Poppies Benjamin series: The solo piano music:
Jamaican Rumba (1945)
Scherzino (1936)
Siciliana (1936)
Chinoiserie (1936)
Suite (1927)
Fantasies I (1933)
Pastorale, Arioso and Finale (1948)
Fantasies II (1933)
Saxophone blues (1929)
Three New Fantasies (1933?)
Romance-Impromptu (1913)
Odds and Ends I (1925)
Haunted House (1945)
Odds and Ends II (1925)
Let’s go hiking (1936)
Brumas Tunes (1945)
Elegiac Mazurka (1942)

  Ian Munro (piano)
rec July/Oct 1996
 TALL POPPIES TP105 [77.52]
Amazon US

In much the same way that Sinding’s ‘fame’ is rooted in ‘The Rustle of Spring so Arthur Benjamin’s renown is founded on the ‘Jamaican Rumba’. In fact he was a composer of much broader accomplishment. There are several operas including the grandest of grand operas: A Tale of Two Cities written for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Other works of some moment and gravity are the hyper-romantic wartime Symphony with its Prokofiev resonances, a dark Viola Sonata (also extant as a Concerto) and a simply glorious Romantic Fantasy for violin, viola and orchestra. The latter has been in the catalogues for many years in an RCA recording with Heifetz, Primrose, the RCA SO conducted by Izler Solomon. However one of these days (if the Gods smile!) some way will be found to release the version played to eager perfection by the de Pasquale brothers with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Ormandy.

Benjamin is fortunate having Ian Munro (who also provides the notes for this disc) as the first pianist to pursue his star with such dedication. Munro is an adaptable and sensitive pianist with reserves of technical skill always at the service of Benjamin’s art rather than his own aggrandisement. It seems a natural progression from this recording that he should move on to record the two works for piano and orchestra: Concerto Quasi Una Fantasia and the Piano Concertino. I have my fingers crossed.

However to the task in hand. Tall Poppies are a firm to be watched. With little publicity they have ploughed an individualist’s furrow and have reaped a rewarding harvest. They have teamed up with Ian Munro to produce a Benjamin series and it is to be hoped that this disc and the chamber music one will not be the final entries in the lists.

Benjamin was himself a pianist of considerable accomplishment. He left his native Australia to study in London there making friends with Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells amongst many others in the RCM Stanford milieu. His music can be thought of as related to the same school. Inevitably his Rumba is here and it is given a swanky performance. The Scherzino recalls Medtner and Rachmaninov and it is the latter whose voice is heard amid the stilly waters of the Siciliana. Chinoiserie is showy and rattles with off-key clangour taking in perspectives afforded by Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives and the gentler Stravinsky.

The Suite encompasses movements that ripple and rush head over heels, light of touch, Ravelian - just this side of a tranquil dream. There are even suggestions of Constant Lambert (he premiered Lambert’s Piano Concerto). All ends in lofty splendour.

These pieces are very varied in mood. Lightly Handelian (a touch of Grainger along the way), the quickstep tramp of Prokofiev, zestful, playful and in the final Fantasy of the New Fantasies a delicate portrait of water spouts romantically scented and developing a central song expansive amplitude. The Romance-Impromptu is a brief simple-seeming romantic song. A number of the pieces (Brumas Tunes and Let’s Go Hiking - a 1930s redolence if ever there was one) seem to be didactic but they never lack for life and experience of living. In the Haunted House we are treated to a ‘wrong note’ grotesque march and some moody ‘chimes at midnight’ Benjamin was, after all, a film composer. The second set of ‘Odds and Ends’ includes a sad Negro Song, a Baxian Legend and a breezily ebullient Baxian march. The CD ends with the Elegiac Mazurka - a sultry homage to Paderewski.

Perhaps you already pride yourself on having the Chandos collection of Howells’ piano music or the Moeran, Goossens or Bax piano music or the Ireland or Mayerl CDs. If so track down a copy of this disc. The idiom is similar without being a slavish facsimile.

Highly commended.

Rob Barnett

See also Volume 2



Both discs are available in the UK from Seaford Music.
phone +44 (0) 1323 732553
fax +44 (0) 1323 417455
24 Pevensey Road
East Sussex BN21 3HP
United Kingdom

or if in difficulty you can contact the ever-helpful Tall Poppies direct:-

Tall Poppies Records
PO Box 373
Glebe NSW 2037

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