Tall Poppies


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Jamaican Rumba: Volume 2

Arthur Benjamin - Chamber Music

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

This set of CDs has arisen from the pianist Ian Munro's enormous love of Benjamin. With a stellar cast of musicians in the Tall Poppies Ensemble, he has made a recording which brings some major and very neglected works to the public eye (or should that be ear!)

This CD contains the Violin Sonatina and several charming violin miniatures played which characteristic elan by John Harding; Esther van Stralen gives a blistering account of the challenging viola sonata; David Pereira plays the charming Cello Sonatina with its jaunty little march; Peter Jenkin brings consummate artistry to the virtuoso clarinet work Tombeau de Ravel. And of course the CD starts with the eponymous Jamaican Rumba in a scintillating version for violin transcribed by William Primrose for Jascha Heifetz.

Jamaican Rumba (1944)To Jascha Heifetz
Sonatina (1924)
To Millicent
Tranquilly flowing!
Scherzo - di stile antico
Sonatina (1939)Preamble
Sonata (1947)Elegy
Waltz - Toccata
Tombeau de Ravel (1958)
Three Pieces (1924)Humoresque
Arabesque (The Muted Pavane)
Carnavalesque (Valse)


This is the very first substantial collection of chamber music by Arthur Benjamin.

Benjamin seems to have been hounded by the Jamaican Rumba in much the same way as Rachmaninov was haunted by the famous Prelude. In any event it must surely have played its part in keeping the wolf from the door. The Rumba exists in a host of arrangements and versions and loses nothing of its catchy memorability in this version and performance.

The sonata/sonatinas, recorded together for the first time, are all quite short. The Violin Sonatina is skilfully played and is a delightful piece: more of a sonatina in its brevity than in its material which for me recalled the idealised ecstatic melos of the contemporaneous Herbert Howells chamber works (principally the glorious Piano Quartet). The scherzo rustles with Walpurgisnacht grotesquerie. There is a hint of the carefree Warlock about the Rondo. The Cello Sonatina from fifteen years later is still lyrical but is less effusive - more controlled - a little like late Fauré while the middle movement is akin to one of E J Moeran's smoothly turned concert pieces for cello and piano. The Viola Sonata is a darker work having a great deal in common with the contemporaneous symphony. Both date from 1945. We really need to hear the work in its concert orchestral version where it is known under two alternative titles: the Viola Concerto or the Elegy, Waltz and Toccata. Esther van Stralen caresses the lines and darkens her tone in keeping with the mood of foreboding (unconsciously?) stressing the link with its soul partner the Bax viola sonata. The Tombeau is well known and has been recorded before several times .

This is a very fine disc, well recorded and deserving attention. It seems once again to have been ignored by the review magazines.

Ian Munro is the common thread between the two discs. His freshly lucid and very full English-only notes ideally complement this significant release.
Rob Barnett

I'm not normally a willing listener to chamber or solo music, but when this disc was over, Benjamin had won me over. Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960) was Australian born and London trained--by the top musicians of his time. With the exception of the deservedly popular 'Jamaican Rumba', here's a record's worth of his writings that are unaccountably neglected. Benjamin's chamber works are highly melodic, short yet pungent, with a strength of harmony that is distinctive even though obviously influenced by the French impressionists. The violin and cello sonatinas--the latter written for Lorne Monroe--are particularly attractive and sound as if they'd be even better orchestrated.

The guiding light behind this disc is pianist Ian Munro. He is assisted by John Harding (violin), Peter Jenkin (clarinet), David Pereira (cello) and Esther van Stralen (viola), Australian colleagues who seem to have their acts well in hand. Unfortunately, the recording is poorly balanced and somewhat foggy. The soloists sound as if they're in the next room.

The booklet consists of an appreciation of Benjamin by Joan Trimble as well as a thorough 14 pages of biography and music analysis by Munro. Interesting and worthwhile reading.
Justin R. Herman
American Record Guide, July, 2001
COPYRIGHT 2001 Record Guide Productions

Although opening with a lilting account of the Jamaican Rumba in the 1944 arrangement for violin and piano, dedicated to and played by Heifetz, the earliest music here is also for violin and piano, a set of Three Pieces. A lively Humoresque and Carnavalesque (with a curious tolling bell introduction) frame a ghostly Arabesque. The Violin Sonatina followed in 1924, with its opening movement, Tranquilly flowing, becoming increasingly passionate, followed by a perky Scherzo and a charming closing Rondo.

The Cello Sonatina of 1938 is perhaps the most warmly lyrical of Benjaminís string duos, easily melodic but with a highly rhythmic closing March. The Viola Sonata, written in 1942 for William Primrose, is a particularly fine work combining a haunting Elegy with a nostalgic Waltz, and ending with a boldly virtuosic Toccata.

But especially beguiling is Tombeau de Ravel written for Gervaise de Peyer. All the performances here are of high quality and show a composer of great resource who always captures and holds the listenerís ear. The recording is excellent.

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 TP (1-901)



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