Bennet: Three Romantic Pieces; Partridge Pie; Fantasy; Excursions; Suite for Skip and Sadie; Over the Hills and Far Away; Kandinsky Variations; Four Piece Suite,

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COMPOSERS: Bennet
LABELS: Metronome
ALBUM TITLE: Piano Works, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2
WORKS: Three Romantic Pieces; Partridge Pie; Fantasy; Excursions; Suite for Skip and Sadie; Over the Hills and Far Away; Kandinsky Variations; Four Piece Suite,
PERFORMER: Martin Jones, Richard MacMahon (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1068-69, MET CD 1070
Richard Rodney Bennett is sometimes labelled a ‘versatile’ or a ‘professional’ composer – compliments, certainly, but with stings in their tails. There is still a lingering prejudice in Britain against those who do many things very well: implications of ‘Jack of all trades…’ perhaps – or maybe just plain envy. Listening to these three well-filled CDs of Bennett’s solo piano music, played with superb panache and understanding by Martin Jones, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. The range of musical masks Bennett can wear comfortably is breathtaking. One minute he’s coaxing extraordinary riches of expression and delicacy from the Schoenbergian 12-note system in Fantasy; the next he’s transforming Debussy’s solo-flute favourite Syrinx into an insidiously seductive Tango. He can sustain a compelling musical argument for nearly 25 minutes in the ballet-based Noctuary or deftly spin a sequence of winsome miniatures like the seven Diversions. One common element, though – which does mark these pieces out from most of the piano music written particularly in the 1960s and 1970s – is Bennett’s obvious respect for and understanding of the instrument, its historical attributes (witness Three Romantic Pieces) as much as its modern potential. That’s as evident in the four-hand pieces as in the solo works, though here Bennett the suave charmer and barbed wit takes the spotlight (apart from the refreshingly spiky Capriccio). Jones seems completely unfazed by the range of style and character in these pieces, and Richard MacMahon makes a delightful duet-partner in Vol. 2. Good too to have recordings so well attuned to the whole kaleidoscope of colours and textures, Recommended. Stephen Johnson

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