Troubadour Music; Piano Concerto*; Aubade; Country Dances, Book 1; Anniversaries;
*Michael McHale (piano); BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5244 65.52 mins
The fourth volume of Chandos’s series devoted to Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s orchestral music presents us with a curious question. Why do the pieces written in memory or celebration of friends and colleagues (Aubade, Anniverseries) flow along without leaving us anything distinctive to remember, while the big work which is purely abstract in design (the Piano Concerto of 1968) repeatedly grips and entertains? Part of the success of the Concerto’s performance certainly lies in Michael McHale’s high-energy fingers, confidently shifting between glittering decorations and bravura solo spurts. Meanwhile, John Wilson and his BBC musicians are fully a match for Bennett’s nervous rhythms and the melodic urge that won’t be denied, for all the work’s surface ‘modernity’. It’s a really memorable and thoroughly exhilarating piece.
Professional skill shines through the pensive memorial to conductor John Hollingsworth, Aubade, the concert opener Troubadour Music and the elegantly fussy orchestral concerto of Anniversaries – an elaborate joint birthday card for the 60th anniversaries of the BBC and the American composer Irwin Bazelon. But I’d much rather revisit the humbler light music of the 2001 Country Dances: perky arrangements of English folk tunes published by John Playford over three centuries before, dispatched here with loving flair.