French masterpieces glow in sensitive arrangements

Roger Benedict: Debussy

The Strad Issue: February 2023

Description: French masterpieces glow in sensitive arrangements

Musicians: Roger Benedict (viola) Simon Tedeschi (piano)

Works: Debussy: Four Préludes; Cello Sonata RAVEL Pièce en forme de Habanera; Kaddisch; Sonatine; Sonate posthume

Catalogue number: ABC CLASSIC

Neither Debussy nor Ravel wrote any music for viola and piano: with the exception of the latter’s Sonatine, performed in its original form as a piano solo, all the pieces here are arrangements, mostly made by British-born, Sydney-based soloist and teacher, Roger Benedict. Those pieces stemming from vocal, violin and cello originals have been straightforwardly transcribed, Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera – a wordless vocalise – necessitating no changes at all. In Kaddisch – another song – Benedict includes a most effective octave drop that fits perfectly with a change of register in the (original) piano part. Ravel’s early Violin Sonata needs some changes of octave, which are convincingly managed. The relationship between the conspicuously high-lying piano part and the solo instrument is altered but still works.

The programme opens with a selection of Debussy’s piano Préludes. Benedict’s arrangements are here at their most interventionist, and very successful they are, too. The viola parts emerge naturally from the piano texture, Benedict unerringly finding the most adequate register for them. Both players relish the sultry Hispanic rhythms so dear to both composers in readings that underline beauty of tone, albeit to the occasional detriment of forward momentum.

They have been credibly recorded, courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Benedict’s well-focused tone ideally balanced with Tedeschi’s piano. It’s also good to know that these arrangements are available in print, as is the recording, from the violist’s website.