1991 was a year dominated by major news events—the Gulf War, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the KGB in Russia. The arts lost many leading figures—Margot Fonteyn, Graham Greene, Peggy Ashcroft and film director Frank Capra—and specifically in music, the deaths of Andrzej Panufnik, pianist Claudio Arrau, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, and the legendary Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the group Queen. Three prominent films that year were JFK
, The Silence of the Lambs
and Beauty and the Beast
—and it was a composer closely associated with film music who was busy creating a remarkable new work for bassoon and piano. Richard Rodney Bennett had been for many years the President of Seaton Music Club in the southern English county of Devon. By the early 1990s he was well established in his adopted home of New York City, but he responded enthusiastically to a commission request from the music club for a new sonata, which was dedicated to me and my long-time recital partner Michael Hancock. In our preparations for the premiere performance, at Seaton, we had a session with the composer, who emphasized the importance of lyricism and flow in this music. The work is a fine example of what Tom Service was describing (in The Guardian
, July 2012) when he wrote: ‘Bennett is living proof that … serialism and lyricism can not only co-exist but are dependent on each other.’ The influence of Bennett’s studies nearly four decades earlier with Pierre Boulez is ever present, and yet—although this music is in style nothing like any of Bennett’s film scores—the range of colours, textures and expressions makes this work every bit the equal of his finest oeuvres for the silver screen. The gentle flow of the first movement with moments of tension, the characteristic lilt of the ‘Forlana’ with its highly imaginative and animated piano part, and the drive and drama of the final movement that eventually dissipate into a reflective recognition—all these could be settings of scenes from a great film. This music has many fine qualities, but what I especially appreciate is the fact that it is a duo, not a solo with accompaniment. The bassoon and piano are very closely integrated throughout, and there are numerous passages where the bassoon takes an accompanying role with the piano very much in the lead. This sonata is a manifestation of a musical creativity that is rooted in and pays homage to the past, while taking those influences forward in new directions, creating new sound-worlds.
from notes by Laurence Perkins © 2021