BBC CO / Wilson, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Practitioner of "extreme versatility" was how Sarah Walker introduced Richard Rodney Bennett for the live BBC Radio 3 broadcast of this BBC Concert Orchestra concert which celebrated his 70th birthday. It's for film music that Bennett is most widely known, and the second half of this programme represented this side of him well, concluding with a suite from Murder on the Orient Express.

But before that, we heard three orchestral concert works from the last 20 years. Bennett has frequently insisted on keeping completely separate his composing styles and his performing activities - as a pianist in contemporary music and in highly regarded cabaret collaborations with the likes of Cleo Laine, Marian Montgomery and, lately, Mary Cleere Haran. Yet these more recent scores demonstrate a coming together of different idioms that suggests that Bennett has changed his mind.

Partita is for much of its three-movement course indistinguishable from Bennett's basic film-score idiom, though there are passages - the opening movement's second section, for instance - in which reassuringly familiar melodic material is accompanied by an unusually high level of chromatic and textural density. Two Country Dances proved to be natural successors to Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite, while Concerto for Stan Getz integrates its jazz elements with a deft touch into more classical writing for the strings and the timpani that accompany the solo tenor saxophone.

Andy Scott was the soloist here, demonstrating apparently effortless control of all the dimensions of his part. But nowhere did the conductor John Wilson seem able to galvanise the BBC CO into playing of ideal sophistication or blend, even in styles that must be meat and drink to them.

In the film scores, on the other hand, these performers seemed much more in their element. And with the gleefully gothic harmonic asperities of Gormenghast, and the composer himself on hand to add his own nonchalant style of piano playing to, in particular, that Orient Express score, the second half seemed a much more successful birthday offering to this internationally successful, but peculiarly English, composer.

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