Richard Rodney Bennett
The Glory and the Dream; Two Madrigals; Remember, O thou man; A Contemplation Upon Flowers; The Sorrows of Mary; Lullaby Baby; Time; One Equal Music, etc.
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir/Paul Spicer; Nicholas Morris (organ)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0184 62:43 mins
Until recently Sir Richard Rodney Bennett was most generally famous for his atmospheric film scores, such as Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral. These days, though, his sheer versatility is becoming more widely appreciated, emerging from the serial shadow of teachers such as Pierre Boulez in the 1950s to create a remarkable range of highly accessible, melodic music throughout his long career, from opera to jazz, and choral compositions like these. Many have been recorded as couplings to other composers, but there have only been two previous dedicated collections, by John Rutter (Collegium) and the BBC Singers (Signum), both excellent. That makes this new selection all the more welcome, especially as all but the title piece are first recordings.
The Glory and the Dream, from Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality, is punctuated rather than backed by the organ. Its long flowing lines have an appropriately romantic, lyrical character, from the pastoral opening to the transcendent finale. The other pieces are a cappella 16th-century verse settings, but they don’t descend into mere pastiche, even when Bennett adopts period influences, as in the early Madrigals and the plainchant-like carol The Sorrows of Mary. Their qualities are strikingly consistent, characteristically tonal and lyrical, deeply felt, but with a deceptive lightness of texture that underplays the deftness of the part-writing. Altogether they radiate a freshness and vitality particularly well brought out by these young but superior student voices, under Paul Spicer’s taut direction, making this a pleasure to hear.
Mike Scott Rohan