Clifford Benson (1946-2007) was in great demand as a recitalist, accompanist and teacher and his work can be heard on the large number of recordings he made for Hyperion, Chandos, CRD and other labels. Composing had been one of his interests from a young age, and his upcoming 60th birthday was a good reason to put these on a recording.
Unfortunately, between booking Potton Hall and engaging Jeremy Hayes and Tony Faulkner to produce and engineer in late 2006, Clifford Benson was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and by the time for the recording on February 2007, he was too ill to play. He asked his old friend Michael Dussek and former pupil John Reid to play, and ill though he was, made the journey to Potton Hall to sit in on the sessions. At the end of it all he said “I think it’s a bloody good CD!” and having listened to it several times now, I agree wholeheartedly, and forgive its short playing time.
The two sets of pieces, six and three respectively on this disc are by turns lyrical and impish. Light in their ethos, some follow in the footsteps of Billy Mayerl’s more lyrical and less syncopated piano works, well crafted salon works, each having the makings of an encore piece. Others show Benson’s sense of humour, Petite Burleque an excellent example.
The Three Pieces were published after encouragement from George Malcolm, who also suggested his writing a piece for John Amis along the lines of Alec Templeton’s “Bach Goes To Town” and so was born “Mozart Goes To Town” written for piano duet. The excellent notes provided give all the inspirations for this witty piece!
The two sets of variations make very rewarding listening. Variations on “Frère Jacques” were written in 1966 for Thea King, ideal for a light end to a recital. The much more substantial Variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is written in a diverting collection of styles, some of which allude directly to the styles of other composers, the rest written in Benson’s own style, all done with much affection.
Splendid playing, and superb recording quality as can be expected from Tony Faulkner make this a CD well worth exploring. Much care has gone into designing and compiling the booklet, too. If you need cheering up, this could be the necessary tonic.
1. Romance d’amour
3. Au revoir, Sylvie
5. Petite Burlesque
7-15. Variations on Frère Jacques
17. Spanish Dance
18. Little March
19. Mozart Goes To Town (for piano duet)
21-40. Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star