Lorraine McAslan / Sarah-Jane Bradley / John Gibbons

Arthur Benjamin: Violin Concerto; Romantic Fantasy; Elegy, Waltz & Toccata

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British composer Arthur Benjamin is best known for a light piece called Jamaican Rhumba that became a hit for Canadian-American orchestra leader Percy Faith, among others. Some of his full-scale orchestral music, notably the Romantic Fantasy for violin, viola, and orchestra heard here, is performed from time to time in Britain. But the other two works here receive their first recordings. The basic vocabulary is close to that of Arnold Bax, but there is no extramusical content. There doesn't seem to be a strong thread connecting the violin concerto, the Romantic Fantasy, and the Elegy, Waltz, and Toccata for viola and orchestra, other than their three-movement structure and basic concerto configuration. The Violin Concerto is almost overflowing with motivic details in its first-movement Rhapsody, and it poses large technical challenges that are surmounted by violinist Lorraine McAslan. The Romantic Fantasy is a more melodic, less dissonant piece throughout, and the Elegy, Waltz, and Toccata is a dark work inspired by not only the World War II period when it was written, but by the composer's own experiences in the previous world war. Perhaps this lack of an overarching vision is what has caused Benjamin's neglect, but the ambition and seriousness of purpose in the two premieres here is noteworthy, and each piece deserves to be heard more often. McAslan, violist Sarah-Jane Bradley, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under John Gibbons achieve impressive results in music for which they had very few models to follow. Recommended for lovers of British music of the 20th century.

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