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Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936)
Piano Concerto (1968) [24:19]
Five Studies for Piano (1962-4) [10:29]
Capriccio for Piano Duet (1968) [6:50]
Commedia IV (two trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba) (1973) [13:45]
Stephen Kovacevich (piano, Concerto), Richard Rodney Bennett (piano, Studies, Capriccio), Thea Musgrave (piano, Capriccio)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Alexander Gibson (Concerto)
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (Philip Jones (trumpet); Elgar Howarth (trumpet); Ifor James (horn); John Iveson (trombone); John Fletcher (tuba): Commedia)
rec. September 1971, Kingsway Hall (5 Studies; Capriccio); 12-13 January 1971. Wembley Town Hall (concerto); December 1974 (Commedia IV). ADD
Piano Concerto first issued on LP with Jazz Calendar, recorded with the London Jazz Ensemble. LP: (March 1972) 6500 301; CD: (May 1999) 456 880.2PM2 and on CD again (February 2002) Decca 470 371.2
LYRITA SRCD.275 [55.28]

There are at least two facets to the music-making of Richard Rodney Bennett. His 'serious' concert music tends towards 12-tone language. His film scores which include the touching Lady Caroline Lamb and Four Weddings and a Funeral is more accessible and tonally inclined - rather like Benjamin Frankel. His concerts with various leading jazz divas ranged far and wide through jazz and show culture typifying the Book, Music and Lyrics adventurousness of Robert Cushman. He has recorded the oblique and jazzily melancholic piano concerto by Constant Lambert. If the lapidary diaphony of his own Piano Concerto suggests Nights in the Gardens of Darmstadt it is testimony to his wondrous skill as an orchestrator of delicately woven aural fabric and of dissonance.
Bennett's mother had been a student of Gustav Holst and taught him his instrument from the age of five. He studied with Howard Ferguson and Lennox Berkeley, later with Boulez, Messiaen, Lutyens; the latter another denizen of twelve tone in concert and on film. He has a special predilection for jazz and cultured popular culture. His Jazz Calendar of 1963 could surely with advantage have been included here. Bennett's recording was originally on the same LP that included this recording of the Piano Concerto. The disc runs to just over 55 minutes so there was space. The Five Studies are played by the composer. They represent a sort of rapprochement between Webern and Bartók. Despite their title Bennett never intended them to be purely didactic or without artistic worth. They are by turns magical, grim, dissonant, ruthless, otherworldly and reflective. Notes flow and jerk in chiming collana, grunted ripples and protesting oratory. The Capriccio is from the same year as the Piano Concerto. It's good to hear the composer play this continuous piece with another composer, Thea Musgrave whose music was celebrated in a Lyrita CD earlier this year (see review). This is tough music, jangling with dramatic discords and shivering in tendrils of dissonance.
We leave the sound of the piano which dominated the first ten tracks of this disc for the five brass instruments specified for Commedia IV. Why Commedia? It's one of four twelve-tone works written by Bennett in 1972-73 in which short carefully structured, mosaic-like movements are set together to interact as characters well known from the Commedia dell’ Arte. With a crack ensemble of very famous brass players we are guaranteed virtuosity in display, in character and in deferential concerted playing.
The excellent notes are by Calum Macdonald.
This is among the shortest of the new generation of Lyritas and the repertoire is emblematic of Bennett and of metropolitan 1960s compositional style. Magnificently played and recorded too.
Rob Barnett
Lyrita catalogue


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