Frankel: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5; Overture May Day

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5; Overture May Day
PERFORMER: Queensland SO Brisbane/Werner Andreas Albert
Benjamin Frankel was a musician of extraordinary diversity and facility. He was born in London in 1906 to Polish/Jewish parents. His early years were spent as a ‘hot jazz’ pianist, violinist and arranger, and he was musical director for many West End shows. He wrote over 100 film scores, becoming arguably Britain’s finest film composer. And he ended his life as a symphonist of major stature (in the critic William Mann’s words, ‘our most eloquent symphonist’). He died in 1973.


The German CPO label and Werner Andreas Albert are currently recording Frankel’s eight symphonies and other works (though not, it seems, the celebrated Festival of Britain Violin Concerto, which he dedicated ‘to the memory of the Six Million’).

This initial release brings together the First and Fifth Symphonies (dating from 1958 and 1967) – listener-friendly, melodically sustained, brilliantly orchestrated, tonally compromising demonstrations of 12-note serialism that demand to be heard and played many times.

This is compelling music, tough yet lyrical – an imposingly scaled, broadly paced personal testimony. Mahlerian in memories, Sibelian in logic, Schoenbergian in serial rigour (Frankel studied serial technique with his close BBC friend and supporter, Hans Keller), it is ultimately entirely individual. Frankel’s feeling for structure, climax and timing is impressive, his ideas imaginative and beautifully framed. The Vigil finale of the First is remarkably sustained, and its closing pages are a masterly demonstration of poetic pathos and cadential inevitability worthy of a place alongside any of the acknowledged great symphonists of the 20th century.

This is a significant and important recording, impeccably played with a tremendous sense of occasion, style and panache. The recorded sound is of demonstration quality – objective, filmic, theatrical.


There is copious documentation, including analytical notes by Buxton Orr, one of Frankel’s students. Not to be missed. Ates Orga