It is to be hoped this
release will reawaken interest in the
music of William Sterndale Bennett,
for it contains much to delight the
senses. Juxtaposing the D minor and
C minor concertos is a wise move on
Lyrita’s part, for they are in many
ways complementary works.
The most immediately
noticeable feature of the First Piano
Concerto is that it ends with a Scherzo
– the composer was persuaded to omit
the finale from his intended four-movement
plan!. Although still a student at the
time of composition, it is clearly written
by a fairly mature composer, as can
be heard in the depths plumbed by the
Andante sostenuto or by the vividly
evoked storm-clouds of the first movement.
Binns is most successful in the slow
movement – he seems to move inside the
Mendelssohnian freedom of thought to
a remarkable degree, including some
The finale begins with
a vehement outburst from the orchestra,
fully deserving of the D minor key area
– the piano’s riposte is of elfin delicacy.
Thus begins a dialogue, sometimes heated,
sometimes polite, that runs throughout
this fascinating movement.
Comparing the openings
of the two concertos is instructive.
Whereas the D minor presents more heart-on-sleeve
drama, that of the C minor is more understated,
sadder perhaps, but nevertheless holding
within it hints of the struggle ahead.
Throughout, Sterndale Bennett’s compositional
hand is surer, even though the first
concerto only dates from two years earlier.
The piano writing in the outer movements
is often more of a virtuoso struggle
than filigree. Malcolm Binns rises to
the technical challenges with aplomb.
Sterndale Bennett seemed
to have a particular affection for pizzicato
strings, and it is they that begin the
Romanza (Andante espressivo). Binns’
eloquent cantabile is particularly
affecting during the course of this
lovely movement. The finale (Allegro
agitato) forms heavy contrast, with
its insistent repetitions.
David Byers, the musicologist
who furnished the editions of the piano
concertos, also provides the booklet
notes. He refers to the Caprice
as ‘an important addition to the repertory
of short concertante works for piano
and orchestra’. Its carefree, sunny
demeanour is infectious. The most immediate
point of reference is Mendelssohn, although
a lyrical melody around 2’30 seems to
have more of Sterndale Bennett about
it. How lovely it would be to see this
on a concert programme some day!
captures the piano sound perfectly,
with just the right amount of brightness
to the treble and a firm bass. The orchestral
sound-picture is believable, and the
London Philharmonic project a palpable
sense of enjoyment and discovery.
Of course, Binns’ disc
of the remaining concertos on SRCD205
forms the necessary complement to this
release – ideally they should be enjoyed