As we stare down the barrel of the ANZAC centenary, we can expect to hear fusillades of music resurrected after a century of neglect. Among the more intriguing and refreshing exhumations are five largely unknown works by British composers recorded by the enterprising Melbourne pianist Benjamin Martin.
All the music here was composed in the Roaring 20s. None of it sounds in any way ‘war-like’, even if its composers were shaped by the Great War to varying degrees. The three late Preludes by Delius yearn for the fields of home, nostalgic postcards that could have been written his great friend Percy Grainger.
There is more conflict implicit in the muscular Third Sonata by Arnold Bax and the vivid nightmares of Frank Bridge’s Piano Sonata, with their premonitions of the war-music of his student Benjamin Britten.
The gem of the collection is a short work by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the ‘Hymn-Tune Prelude on Song 13 by Orlando Gibbons’ . Here the pianist is directed to play ‘not too quick and calm but with sub-conscious emotion’, qualities Benjamin Martin conveys with perfection.
Even more unusual is the short ‘encore’ piece that rounds out the 62 minutes duration of this CD. Martin has made his own version of Charlie Chaplin’s tune ‘Smile’, taken from the soundtrack for the famous silent movie, ‘Modern Times’ (1936). Charming and captivating, this is music that does indeed smile.
Two essays provide expansive background to the music and its era. The recording was made in the lucid acoustic of the South Melbourne Town Hall. Benjamin Martin moves between styles effortlessly and persuasively. This CD transcends the impetus for the music it contains, as all good art aspires to do.