William Sterndale Bennett
The Naiades – Overture, Op.15
The Wood Nymphs – Overture, Op.20
The May Queen – Overture
Parisina – Overture
Symphony in G minor, Op.43
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Philharmonia Orchestra [The Naiades]
Recording dates and locations not advised in Lyrita’s annotation; copyright date is 2007
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.206
Duration: 65 minutes
The presence on the pro-British music label that is Lyrita of William Sterndale Bennett is purely due to his English nationality. Born in Sheffield in 1816 (he died in London in 1875 as Sir William), Bennett’s music, like much produced by his contemporaries and the earliest American composers (i.e. before the twentieth-century), is so Germanic as to make its English-ness inconsequential. Not that this is a criticism, for Bennett’s music is deft and articulate, charmingly melodic and expertly crafted. It reminds most of Mendelssohn – without emulating his distinction – and, indeed, Bennett studied with the Leipzig-based composer (at Mendelssohn’s personal invitation) in three protracted visits between 1836 and 1842; later, after Mendelssohn’s death, Bennett conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He was, though, better known (highly regarded, indeed) as a pianist and also as an academic who held numerous appointments, not least Principal of the Royal Academy of Music from 1865. While in Leipzig, Bennett was also befriended and admired by Schumann – his Études symphoniques is dedicated to Bennett – and, in 1854, Bennett conducted the first performance in the UK of Bach’s “St Matthew Passion”.
Bennett’s catalogue of works includes several piano concertos, choral works and, of course, the music gathered here – four concert overtures and a symphony. The latter is a concise four-movement work (from 1863-4 with the third movement ‘Romanze’ added in 1867) that begins darkly – as if in “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress) mood – but clouds soon depart to reveal the cheerful demeanour that seems more typical of Bennett’s music, invention that is also quietly innovative (the prominence given to the brass in the trio of the second movement, for example) as well as graceful and mercurial.
The overtures, two placed either side of the symphony on this release, are in similar mould, but with greater freedom of expressive narrative and are as attractive as the picturesque titles suggest. Bennett’s is unpretentious music, stylishly performed under Nicholas Braithwaite’s conducting and well recorded – unfortunately, once again, Lyrita is unable to provide recording dates and locations in the annotation, but these are first-release DDD recordings that could have been made any time in the last 20 years! – and will appeal to listeners who enjoy lyrical and lucid Romantic music crafted to Classical ideals.