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William Sterndale BENNETT (1816-1875)
Sextet in F sharp minor, Op.8 (1835) [38:47]
Chamber Trio, Op.26 (1839) [19:27]
String Quartet in G major, WoO17 (1831) [19:03]
Villiers Quartet
James Dickenson (violin)
Nick Stringfellow (cello)
Leon Bosch (double bass)
Jeremy Young (piano)
rec. 2018, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK
World première recording (quartet)
NAXOS 8.571379 [77:30]

The English composer, pianist, and conductor William Sterndale Bennett was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire in 1816. His father Robert Bennett, an organist, composer and teacher, named his son after his friend William Sterndale. The young Bennett was admitted to the Royal Academy of Music at the age of ten, where he studied violin and piano. By twenty he had gained a favourable reputation as a composer and concert pianist. He also became a friend of both Mendelssohn and Schumann, and some even refer to him as the 'English Mendelssohn'. After a brief spell in Leipzig, he began to teach at the Royal Academy of Music, and later at Queen's College, London. His pupils included Arthur Sullivan and Hubert Parry. He died in London in 1875 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Bennett was only in his mid-teens when he completed his G major String Quartet in October 1831. It had to wait until 1885, after the composer's death, for a performance, and here it receives its world première recording. It's heavily influenced by Haydn, adopting a standard layout - fast, slow, minuetto, fast. It's certainly not short of enchanting melodies, and reveals a deft hand at the apportioning of parts. The Haydenesque finale is its high point, carefree, bubbly and effervescent. The Villiers perform it with infectious glee.

The Mendelssohn connection goes much deeper than friendship. Bennett's music eventually became stylishly akin to his elder counterpart. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Sextet in F sharp minor, Op.8, dated 1835. The composer was only nineteen and the work sits neatly between his Third and Fourth Piano Concertos. The Op.8 also adopts a virtuosic piano part, in a concertante-type role. There's an underlying melancholy at the start of the opening movement, which gradually gives way to ardent intensity. A sprightly Scherzo follows. The Andante grazioso is imbued with grace and elegance, preceding a finale which is free-flowing and animated.

Four years later, Bennett composed his Chamber Trio, Op.26 for violin, cello and piano. The opening movement's sense of abandon radiates a pleasing glow. Delicate pizzicatos accompany an attractive piano theme in the second movement Serenade, and the work concludes with a particularly alluring finale.

All the performances brim over with personality, and these delightful scores could have no better advocates. The warmth and intimacy of the Manchester venue further adds to the recording's success.

Stephen Greenbank
 

 



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