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New projects

December 9, 2013

A bit of a flurry of activity lately, what with Australia Council grants to be applied for and a 2014 diary to fill. It’s been a while since I did anything about getting my Arthur Benjamin series with Tall Poppies going again, so I’m pleased to say that we have put together a programme and gathered a gang of magnificent colleagues to record a new disc next year. Grant outcomes are notoriously difficult to predict, so it’s possible that, should we not be successful, I will be looking to setting up a Pozible fundraiser. Somehow, the thing will happen: to that end, I am determined.

For those who haven’t been subjected to my enthusiasm for Arthur Benjamin (1893—1960), let me give the background, in brief. ‘Benjy’, as he was known to his friends, was a Sydney-born, Brisbane-educated pianist and composer, who left for London in 1911 and, after fighting in the First World War, made a career first as a distinguished pianist and teacher, and gradually established himself as a composer. During the 1930s, he worked alongside his former piano pupil Muir Matheson at Gaumont, producing a substantial body of film music. Scores from this period include both ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ films, along with Hitchcock’s first version of ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much.’ For an extensive biography, I will upload the one I wrote for my defunct website.

In previous projects, I recorded most of his piano music, with the exception of an early ‘Novelette’ and the late ‘Etudes Improvisées’, both of which I will be recording for the current project. The second disc was devoted to chamber music with piano, featuring the sonatinas for cello and violin, the viola sonata and other works.

For this third CD, we collect the songs (to be sung by the bewitching Sara MacLiver), remaining piano pieces and two early chamber works, held by the British Library in manuscript. Benjamin’s earliest surviving major work is the ‘Clarinet Quintett in C minor’ [sic], dating from 1914. The manuscript shows evidence of having been used in performance, although I have no details of the event, but the piece has not been performed, in any case, for great many years, and remains unrecorded. In typesetting it, as I am doing right now, for a performance by Cathy McCorkill and strings in our Australia Ensemble series next year, I am loving its Brahmsian ardour, its more ethereal Elgar-like touches, and enjoying getting to know a younger and developing Benjy, having become used to his more refined and slightly more taut and wizened later style. Cathy will record it with a quartet comprising four of my favourite players: Natsuko Yoshimoto and Wilma Smith (violins), Imants Larsens (viola) and David Pereira (cello).

Finally, an intriguing Sonata in E minor for violin and piano, a work he wrote while interned in Karlsruhe camp during the final year of the war. After repatriation, he returned to Australia in 1919 and 1920, before settling back in London for almost the rest of his life (he spent most of WWII in Vancouver). It was then that he performed the sonata in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, to at least one admiring review. 2014 will be a bumper year for the sonata, which has not been heard for almost one hundred years. A performance on May 11 at next years Canberra Festival, although not qualifying as the Australian premiere it is claiming to be, will be a very welcome addition to an imaginative programme of music written during the time of war.

The other project? Oh yes… My three piano trios. Each will be recorded by the ensemble for whom it was written. Having recently premiered my second trio ‘A Book of Lullabies’ at the Huntington Festival, I’m glad to confirm that my colleagues Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles have agreed to record it next May. It was commissioned, along with my third trio ‘Ein Altdeutsches Liederbuch’, by the lovely John and Jo Strutt, who were at Huntington for the premiere and who are a pleased as punch that my friends Helena Rathbone (of the Australian Chamber Orchestra) and Howard Penny (of ANAM) will join me to premiere and record it in 2014. The series was set in motion back in 2007 by Chris Marshall in Christchurch, who commissioned my first trio ‘Tales of Old Russia’, which was extensively toured by the Eggner Trio in 2011.

Roll on 2014!

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