Monday, 16 April 2018

Richard Rodney Bennett: Celebration for orchestra (1991)

Celebration for orchestra is the opening track on the first instalment of Chandos’s new cycle of orchestral music by Richard Rodney Bennett. It is a splendidly vibrant, up-tempo piece, that has many nods to William Walton in its rhythmic and melodic interest.

The work was commissioned by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in 1991 as a ‘celebration of its 10th Anniversary Season.’ It is dedicated to ‘the founders, subscribers, and musicians’ of that institution. The work’s premiere was given at Hagerstown, Maryland on 14 March 1992 with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra founding artistic director Barry Tuckwell conducting.

It is difficult to define the form of this short work. On the one hand it is like a little overture, on the other hand, Richard Bratby (CD liner notes) has described it as ‘a miniature concerto for orchestra, somewhere between a fanfare and a comedy overture in the bustling manner of Walton’s Johannesburg Festival Overture (1956).’ This is immediately apparent from the ‘brassy swagger, soaring melody, and an invigorating, distinctly American rhythmic kick in just over four exuberant and brilliantly scored minutes.’ In addition, the orchestration is a masterclass of variety, interest and exuberance.

The Gramophone (January 2018) reviewer Edward Seckerson notes that ‘First up, Bennett arrives disguised as William Walton …whose wiry string figures and angular syncopations raise the question: is this a tribute or an impersonation…’ Seckerson concludes that ‘either way, it is very knowing and virtuoso, and does exactly what it says in the title.’

Nick Barnard reviewing this CD considered that Richard Rodney Bennett was ‘at his most overtly brilliant in Celebration…This brief work contains all of the Bennett fingerprints of vigorous music with a distinctly jazz-derived harmonic and rhythmic slant. If one was being harsh you might say this is the least individual work presented here but that is just to demonstrate the range of Bennett’s style from abstractly serious, to impressionistic and programmatic. It also shows his particular brilliance at being able to write hugely enjoyable occasional music…it certainly sounds as though the performers here are having a ball!’ (MusicWeb International,1 March 2018) 

Richard Bratby in the CD liner notes, reminds the listener of an interview with the composer in 1988 when he was asked ‘what motivated him to write music.’ Bennett replied that ‘I want to bring some people something beautiful, which will stimulate their imaginations’ and added that ‘I want to give players something which is a joy to play’. In Celebration this aim is amply achieved.

Celebration can be found on Chandos CHSA 5202. Other works on this CD include the Symphony No.3, the Marimba Concerto, the Sinfonietta and Summer Music. John Wilson and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra give an enthusiastic and vibrant performance of this dynamic overture (and the other works in this CD).

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