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Sir Richard Rodney Bennett
70th Birthday Concert Wigmore Hall, 28 Mar 2006

Sophie Daneman (soprano)
Jonathan Lemalu (bass baritone)
Iain Burnside (piano)

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (piano)
Claire Martin (vocals)

R R Bennett: A Garland for Marjorie Fleming (1969); Songs before Sleep (2002); Dream Songs (1986)
Gabriel Fauré: Poème d'un jour Op. 21
Francis Poulenc: Voyage à Paris; Hôtel; Trois poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin

Jazz Selection

Not prominent on the UK new music scene since he has been living in New York, Richard Rodney Bennett got "avant-gardism" out of his system when relatively young. He remains a fine musical craftsman, if not an innovator.

For this concert he chose a selection of children's songs, the first group to astonishing texts by a child poet of 7 or less (Marjorie Fleming b.Jan 1803-d.Jan 1811); they knew how to teach English in Fife in those days! Sophie Daneman launched the concert with these, and the audience was captivated and held thereafter in a programme brilliantly contrived for a celebration. Bennett wrote those in 1969, the same year in which I naturally included some of his songs in a recording I produced of Twentieth Century Songs of Childhood.

This was to be an enduring interest for the Sir Richard to be, and we heard his far more demanding Songs before Sleep, delivered with a frightening Wee Willie Winke by its dedicatee, Jonathan Lemalu. The two singers shared the de la Mare settings composed 'for solo voice or children in unison'. In all this unfamiliar repertoire Iain Burnside excelled in accompaniments which brought out the excellence of the settings.

No surprise that we were regaled also with favourite French song of his and mine. Poulenc's songs are unique and amongst the finest from any country, as we were reminded with the contrast between his "smoking song" Hotel and the equivocal and rather disturbing Aux officiers de la Garde Blanche. And Fauré is very much the flavour of the week, with an innovative group of his late songs at the Shaw Theatre on Sunday, and the rare pleasure in anticipation of the Op 89 piano quintet in Judith Weir'e Portrait Concert tonight!

The "other" R R B performed songs from his recent Linn CD with Claire Martin [LINN AKD260] ; it has to be said that after perfect balance and clear diction in the "acoustic" part of the evening, the sound system in Wigmore Hall let down the jazz items, with excessive reverberation and unclear words.

© Peter Grahame Woolf