Arthur Benjamin’s popular trifle Jamaican Rumba seems to follow him wherever he goes: it pops up here as the encore, in an arrangement for viola and piano by William Primrose. But the rest of the CD widens our horizons, revealing the thoughtful, technically brilliant and cosmopolitan musician that Benjamin’s friends and students in London, Canada and his native Australia always knew him to be.
Ravel’s influence can be clearly heard in numerous pieces, from the early Violin Sonatina (1924) to the late Tombeau de Ravel (1957), though Benjamin still goes his way. Tombeau, also available in a clarinet version, is light but never flimsy. The war-scarred Viola Sonata of 1942, dominated emotionally by the dark opening elegy and the second movement’s nervous waltz, presents a more serious composer – one already evident in the unusually strenuous Violin Sonatina.
Whether playing his viola or violin, Lawrence Power is in total sympathy with Benjamin’s shifting moods, and Simon Crawford-Phillips proves a lithe and responsive piano partner. A bouncy recording and excellent inlay notes offer more inducements for listeners to discover that the Jamaican Rumba man, composer of five operas and a powerful symphony, was far from a one-trick pony.