COMPOSERS: Holbrooke Bennett
ALBUM TITLE: Holbrooke
WORKS: Aucassin and Nicolette; Saxophone Concerto in B flat; Seven Country Dances
PERFORMER: Amy Dickson (alto & soprano saxophone); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/George Vass
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7277
The swell of interest in Joseph Holbrooke’s music continues: this is the third instalment in the Dutton label’s series, and other companies have also been making recordings. The longest work here is the half-hour ballet Aucassin and Nicolette, written in 1935, when the composer’s music was seriously out of fashion.
In a way it’s easy to see why, as the idiom is affably that of light music, full of pleasantly swinging rhythms and whistle-able melodies. But there’s also a certain edge and astringency which keeps you listening – the ballet's ‘Peasant Dances’, while clearly Tchaikovskian, are sharply fashioned, while the ‘Mazurka’ has an angular profile not unlike Prokofiev’s music.
Holbrooke’s Saxophone Concerto of 1927 is harmonically a more adventurous composition, and in its rhapsodic opening movement reminded me of Richard Strauss’s (much later) Oboe Concerto. Amy Dickson’s creamy-smooth tonal palette is impressive particularly in the short, mellifluous cadenza, and in the central Serenade, a movement with alluringly oriental colourings, and a fleetingly Debussyan flavour.
Richard Rodney Bennett’s arrangement for saxophone of his Seven Country Dances form a warmly entertaining coupling. Holbrooke’s music is, however, so agreeably listenable that I’d have preferred another of his own orchestral pieces.