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Songs before Sleep
Sophie Daneman, soprano; Susan Bickley, mezzo soprano; Benjamin Hulett, tenor; Roderick Williams, baritone; Oliver Coates, cello; Iain Burnside, piano
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Few composers of our time have moved more effortlessly and more convincingly between such a range of musical styles and genres than Richard Rodney Bennett. Until the end of the 60s he was a card-carrying serialist who had studied with Boulez in Paris, as well as being a film composer and an outstanding jazz pianist, and since he moved towards a more tonal style his different musical worlds have come closer together. The songs in this collection are generally taken from this later, more ingratiating phase of Bennett's career; the earlier, more uncompromising modernist is represented here only by Tom O'Bedlam's Song, more a scena than a song in fact, composed in 1961 for Peter Pears with just a cello as accompaniment, and superbly sung here by Benjamin Hulett. The Britten connection emerges frequently in Bennett's later songs too, where his fondness for relatively slight texts, such as the nursery rhymes of Songs Before Sleep or the Walter de la Mare settings of Dream-Songs, belies the finesse of the vocal writing, the perfectly judged piano accompaniments and the deep currents of emotion that they convey. Performances are uniformly excellent; this is a beautifully judged and planned disc, an undiluted pleasure.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 9/17/2010

What a treat this is! Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, 74 years young, continues to delight audiences the world over with his mulifarious talents. ...a very special gift for word-setting, if this addictive anthology is anything to go by. The opener, 'A Garland for Marjory Fleming', sets the bar high: these five settings...combine enchanting innocence, wicked wit and heaps of communicative charm. [T]he gorgeous 'Dream-Songs' where Bennett's ravishingly lyrical inspiration fits Walter de la Mare's lines like a glove. ...'Songs Before Sleep', which likewise amply demonstrates Bennett's happy knack of plucking out of the ether a tune you seem to have known all along. 'A Song at Evening' brings the disc to a seraphic close.
Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone, 12/1/2010

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