ARTHUR BENJAMIN: Sonata for Viola & Piano (1942); Three Violin Pieces (1921-25); A Tune & Variations. For Little People (1939); Le Tombeau de Ravel: Valse-Caprices From San Domingo; Jamaican Rumba; Sonatina for Violin & Piano (1925) – Lawrence Power, viola & violin/ Simon Crawford-Phillips, piano – Hyperion CDA67969, 66:12 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (6/2/14) ***:
Australian composer Arthur Benjamin, who died in 1960, is not a name most music lovers instantly think of, but his output of music is impressive. I first heard his name as the composer of the iconic Storm Clouds Cantata, done for the 1956 The Man Who Knew too Much directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Actress Doris Day screams just before the cymbal crash in the finale of the cantata at the Albert Hall to prevent a murder.
Benjamin was born in Sydney, and his early works were all written in Australia. He then moved to Canada where he wrote several orchestral pieces, eventually settling in London. This disc features several of Benjamin’s shorter works, including his Violin Sonatina, Viola Sonata, Three Pieces for Violin and Piano, and some other short works including his Jamaican Rumba.
Lawrence Power performs on the violin and viola, while Simon Crawford-Phillips is at the piano. The performances are uniformly excellent, and Power is often hailed as one of England’s greatest violinists. The acoustics at the All Saints’ Church in London are quite good, and this CD presents a realistic image with the instruments mostly centered and a slight stereo spread, which seems an appropriate sound for the music.
The works performed represent a nice catalog of Benjamin’s style, with the earliest work, the Violin Sonatina from 1924, and Le Tombeau de Ravel, dating from 1957, three years before Benjamin’s death.
Benjamin was never a favorite with the critics, but his music is well redeemed here by this listenable collection. I think the strongest work on offer is the 1942 Viola Sonata. It was written while Benjamin was working in Vancouver, Canada, is it represents the deepest emotional music on the disc. It was a wartime piece, with a first movement of dark foreboding. Benjamin is certainly worth a listen. Combine fine performances and a noteworthy recording and you have all you need to explore this oft-neglected composer.