Richard Rodney Bennett, like his near contemporary, Peter Maxwell Davies, was a prolific writer of choral music. In their youth both were interested in the avant-garde (Bennett studying with Boulez in the late 1950s) before each went on to develop their individual take on tonal language. This well performed disc gives us a generous serving of Bennett’s works from the early 1960s up to his death in 2012, many of which are first recordings.
At the centre is The Glory and The Dream, a four-movement work from 2001 that sets a lengthy Wordsworth text (also set by Finzi in the 1950s). This extensive musing on the loss of innocence is set for choir and organ, and makes considerable demands on the performers. Led by Paul Spicer (of Finzi Singers fame) the young Birmingham singers bring the text to life with great energy and expression, and are deftly accompanied by Nicholas Morris.
Elsewhere some familiar texts find new musical garb. I wonder as I wander is given a warm, modal treatment while chromatic urgency suits Remember, O thou man. Bennett does not set John Donne’s famous One Equal Music in the grand manner of William Harris’s 1959 double-choir anthem, but rather chooses to bring a sincere austerity to this, one of his last compositions. These excellent performances shed welcome light on the work of a choral master who has been somewhat eclipsed by Davies, his more feted contemporary.
Composer: Richard Rodney Bennett
Composition: Choral music
Performer: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir/Paul Spicer
Catalogue Number: Somm SOMMCD0184