COMPOSERS: Rodney Bennet
ALBUM TITLE: Rodney Bennett
WORKS: Orchestral Works Vol. 1
PERFORMER: Jonathan Lemalu (baritone), Paul Watkins (cello); Philharmonia Orchestra/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10389
Blindfolded, you might easily guess some newly discovered score by Bernstein or Copland, as Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s 1995 Partita shoots off the blocks and into busy action. That’s meant as no disservice to the piece – it’s strongly individual, and undoubtedly reflects Bennett’s many years of US residence and his extensive work in film music. He wanted Partita to be ‘full of tunes’, and it is, Richard Hickox and the Philharmonia producing a punchy, generously lyrical performance.
Bennett’s Reflections on a Sixteenth Century Tune from four years later takes a melody by Josquin des Prés and fashions from it an unpretentiously attractive (it was written for young players), variation-based composition for string orchestra, sprucely articulated by the Philharmonia players.
A longer set of string Reflections, this time on a Scottish folksong, uses a similar template of integrated variation form, with solo cello. Oddly, given its provenance (it commemorates the late Queen Mother), it has less immediacy of emotional and thematic focus than the Josquin piece, though there’s some richly evocative writing, especially for divided violins. Baritone Jonathan Lemalu’s wryly pointed account of the nursery rhyme settings Songs before Sleep provides a contrasting lightness of touch and sentiment. An auspicious start to what could be a very interesting series. Terry Blain