BENNETT:  Film Music:  Far from the Madding Crowd.  Murder on the Orient Express.  Lady Caroline Lamb (Elegy for Viola and Orchestra).  Nicole's Theme from Tender is the Night.  Enchanted April.  Love Scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral.
BBC Philharmonic Orch/Rumon Gamba, cond.

CHANDOS  CHAN 9867 (F) (DDD) TT:  69:45

British composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (b. 1936) began his musical education at home at the age of five with piano lessons from his mother, who studied with Holst. He began composing almost immediately winning a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Music.  Film conductor John Hollingsworth suggested Bennett try his hand at film soundtracks; his initial efforts were for industrial/government films.  In 1958 he studied with Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen, and his career developed prodigiously. Bennett was recognized as a jazz pianist in addition to his classical work.  His film music includes elements of both. In 1964 he was awarded the Arnold Bax Society prize and in 1965 became the Ralph Vaughan Williams Composer of the Year.  Shortly after this he wrote an opera, The Mines of Sulphur, a piano concerto, his third symphony and a Concerto for Stan Getz. His guitar concerto was recorded by Julian Bream.  Recently Evelyn Glennie recorded his Concerto for Solo Percussion and Chamber Orchestra.

Bennett, like Sir Malcolm Arnold,  seems to have an inexhaustible supply of tunes and the imagination to know what to do with them. This brilliant CD gives us the opportunity to hear some of his finest scores -- and there are treasures indeed.  A lengthy suite written for the 1967 film Far from the Madding Crowd is highlighted by the soaring Bathsheba love theme, as well as pastoral episodes.  A ten-minute suite for Murder on the Orient Express (1974) has a delectable waltz; this score was nominated for an Oscar. The gem of this CD is music for Lady Caroline Lamb (1972) about "the twitchy wife" of an aristocrat who falls obsessively for the charms of poet Lord Byron.  The movie did not do well, but the score is exquisite, arranged here into a two-movement "Elegy for Viola and Orchestra," a seventeen-minute work worthy of inclusion on symphony concerts.  Another winner is Enchanted April (1991) about the lives and loves of a group of English ladies spending an idyllic month in an Italian villa.  This is scored evocatively for ondes martenot and orchestra -- the haunting sounds will stay with you.  The CD is filled out with Nicole's Theme from Tender is the Night (1985) and Love Scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).

Performances are superb.  Rumon Gamba, who also conducted the BBC Philharmonic for the Chandos release of film music of Alan Rawsthorne, is totally attuned to the scope of this music. Philip Dukes is viola soloist in Lady Caroline Lamb.  Cynthia Miller shows total mastery of the ondes martinot in Enchanted April. Add to this the stunning Chandos sonics and we have a winner indeed.

R.E.B. (Aug. 2001)