Here is one of the best discs in CPO's indispensable series devoted to the great music of the long-neglected British composer Benjamin Frankel (once described by William Mann in The Times as "our most eloquent symphonist"). These are world premiere recordings of his Violin Concerto, Viola Concerto and Serenata Concertante, this CD commemorating the 25th anniversary of his death (February 12th, 1973). I first discovered Frankel's music whilst watching a fascinating program, around 18 years ago, about obscure British composers on PBS (Public Broadcasting in the States-one of the few channels worth watching anytime of day) that I was lucky enough to stumble upon. How I wish I could recall the name of that most enlightening documentary! I would just love to own a copy.
Benjamin Frankel was Born in London to parents of Polish-Jewish origin. His apprenticeship to a watchmaker at the age of 14 lasted for only about a year when his pianistic talents attracted the attention of the American pianist Victor Benham who persuaded his parents to allow him to study music full-time. Still in his teens, Frankel began to earn his living as a jazz pianist, violinist and arranger. By the early 1930's he was in great demand as an arranger and musical director in London's West End. Eventually he became one of England's best known film music composers, writing ultimately over 100 scores.
These things, especially in the the orthodox musical climate of England, obscured the fact that he had begun a substantial output of 'serious' music. At first mainly chamber music, the first major work to bring him to wider public attention was the Violin Concerto dedicated "In memory of 'the six million'", a reference to the Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. It was commisioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain and first performed by Max Rostal.
During the last fifteen years of his life Frankel emerged as a leading symphonic composer, writing a cycle of eight Symphonies, other orchestral and chamber works and a three-act opera based on John Whiting's Marching Song. In this last creative period he came to his own unique view of 12-note composition that retained contact with tonality.
On his death, a twenty year long period of almost complete neglect was eventually terminated by the decision of a German record company, cpo, assisted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, to record his entire output. This made it possible for the BBC to make him Composer of the Week in late 1996 and for such comments as the following to appear:
"Our neglect of Benjamin Frankel is not something we can be proud of …The two symphonies in this enterprising disc are outstanding examples of his work, colourfully scored and pungently concise…"
Sunday Telegraph 5th June 1994
"His rediscovery now is as welcome as it is long overdue…"
"....worthy of a place alongside any of the acknowledged great symphonists of the 20th
century....Not to be missed." - Ateê Orga in BBC Music Magazine, June 1994.
Inscribed in memory of the Six Million (Frankel's personal comment on the atrocities of the Holocaust), Frankel's Violin Concerto is a deeply poignant work, with much lyrical power, considered by many to be his masterpiece. Lovers of the Viola will find much to cherish in the Viola
Concerto from 1967, a work that should be performed, like all of his output-with *some* frequency at the least. The same can be said of the Serenata Concertante for Piano Trio and Orchestra from 1960, a lighter piece with many sprightly passages. In all three works Frankel's Tonal/Serialist style is in glorious full bloom. My other favorites in the priceless CPO Frankel series include the complete String Quartets, a disc of works for String Orchestra and the complete Symphonies (Frankel wrote eight of them).
The extremely informative booklet notes I have included.