Lawrence Power / Simon Crawford-Phillips

Arthur Benjamin: Violin Sonatina; Viola Sonata

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A collection of violin and viola music by an obscure Australian-British composer from between the world wars might not leap to the top of most people's must-have lists, but in fact this is a gem. The notes here inform you that Benjamin is best known for the little Jamaican Rumba that closes the album, arranged by William Primrose for viola and piano. Even that is sparsely performed, and in the U.S. Benjamin's name will be recognized mostly by film buffs (he scored the first The Man Who Knew Too Much). Writing film music did not endear him to postwar critics, and still less so did Jamaican Rumba and his other lighter pieces. He's well worth a revival, and any chamber musician could program these works profitably. The notes call Benjamin an unashamed Romantic, but that's only partly true. An unshamed Brahmsian with a layer of impressionist harmony, maybe: the pieces here are intricate and beautifully crafted. The Violin Sonatina, which hardly deserves the diminutive title, draws on Baroque models in ingenious ways in its Scherzo antico movement. He could be serious when desired, and the World War II-era Viola Sonata features a monumental stretch of pizzicatos. But humor, especially in the delightful Le tombeau de Ravel, is never far from the surface, and the A Tune & Variations for Little People (1957) can be enjoyed by all ages. Highly recommended.

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