> Richard Rodney BENNETT 4703712 [CT]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard Rodney BENNETT (born 1936)
Piano Concerto (1968)a
Concerto for Stan Getz (1990)b
Waltz from Murder on the Orient Express (1974)c
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)d
Dream Sequence (1992)e
Stephen Kovacevich (piano)a; John Harle (saxophone)b; BBC Symphony Orchestraab; Alexander Gibsona; Barry Wordsworthb; Hollywood Bowl Orchestracd; John Maucericd; Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)e; Richard Rodney Bennett (piano)e
Recorded: Wembley Town Hall, January 1971a; BBC Hippodrome, Golders Green, London, March 1993b; Sony Studios, Culver City, USA, January 1993c; Hollywood, August 1995d and Henry Wood Hall, London, October 1993e
DECCA 470 371-2 [59:42]

Richard Rodney Bennett, although now resident in New York, is unquestionably one of the most naturally versatile British compositional talents of the last forty years or so. I place equal emphasis on the words natural and versatile, for it is the sheer ease with which he has been able to flit between the genres of mainstream classical, film music and jazz that marks him out as a truly diverse talent, a diversity that is demonstrated particularly well by this disc. In point of fact jazz has been an increasingly important influence both compositionally and in performance, partnering singers such as Marion Montgomery on the piano and also building something of a reputation as a singer-songwriter himself with a fine voice.

The jazz influence and lighter side of his musical nature is well demonstrated in the Concerto for Stan Getz and the unashamedly sentimental Dream Sequence, for cello and piano, recorded upon the birth of Julian Lloyd Webberís son, David, and played here by Lloyd Webber with the composer at the piano. Dream Sequence is in fact an arrangement of three popular songs inspired by childhood and reminiscences thereof, Baby let me take you dreaming, Sleepyhead and Welcome to my dream. Iím afraid the slush is all too much for me here but there you go. Itís one of those pieces you will either love or hate. The Stan Getz Concerto is altogether more interesting, a stimulating combination of energy with a little grit thrown into the first movement for good measure, coupled with smoke filled blues bars late at night in the central movement and a fiercely demanding saxophone part despatched with aplomb and stylistic perfection by the ever magnificent John Harle.

The film music is represented by the Waltz from Murder on the Orient Express and the "love theme" from the huge box office smash Four Weddings and a Funeral. Part of Richard Rodney Bennettís success with film scores could be attributed to his reputation for writing with phenomenal speed, a great asset in hitting tight deadlines, although there is nothing about this music that indicates any corners being cut. Far from it, in the case of Murder on the Orient Express he manages to get marvellously inside both the period and the atmosphere of Agatha Christieís classic novel in music of effervescent appeal. By its side, the dreamy excerpt from Four Weddings and a Funeral, whilst perfectly attractive, is far less memorable although I certainly well remember the effectiveness of the incidental music in the context of the film itself.

The Piano Concerto No.1 pre-dates all of these works by some margin although only six years separate it from Murder on the Orient Express. It is hard to believe that this music came from the pen of the same composer, the Piano Concerto representing Bennettís earlier, strongly serial based style, a legacy of his studies with Boulez and time spent at Darmstadt in the late 1950s. By the 1980s the serial element of his language had largely worked itself out although there are still traces of it audible in the opening movement of the Getz concerto. Written for Stephen Kovacevich (then Bishop) and the CBSO to a Feeney Trust commission, the Piano Concerto is very much a tour de force, skilfully exploring differing elements of the instrumentís character in each movement. The opening Moderato is marked by elaborate, crystalline figuration, the piano exploring the melody in wonderfully haunting, dream-like animation. The ensuing Presto is Bartókian in the percussiveness of its solo part, whilst the Lento explores a bluesy melody stated at the outset in writing of greater soloistic density than the Moderato. The final Vivo is a breathless and ultimately emphatic headlong dash of constantly shifting time signatures with a more restrained, albeit short lived, lyricism reminiscent of the opening movement, at its heart.

In many ways it is the Piano Concerto that has "dated" here, a statement very much of its time. Yet itís a fine work with much to admire and, in this case, a highly committed performance by Kovacevich. Having listened to the disc, which I have to say does serve as a very useful overview of Richard Rodney Bennettís prolific output, I found myself lamenting the fact that so little of his "serious" music is currently available. One of those occasional reminders that although we should consider ourselves lucky that so much rarely heard British music is now coming to disc, there are so many more deserving cases to consider.

Christopher Thomas

See also review by Hubert Culot

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