Benjamin Britten (1913-76) was one of the most precocious of all composers who have the term child prodigy attached to them. Britten showed a keen interest in music from a very early age – both as a pianist and composer. He would become a formidable pianist, but as remarkable as his early compositions are (he had composed 6 string quartets by the age of 12!), very few people, including Frank Bridge could predict that he would become the 20th centuries greatest opera composers.
This is a fine Testament release taken from the archives of Netherlands Radio and enshrines some magnificent Barbirolli performances in somewhat opaque sound. The Satie Gymnopedie's have a delicate and loving sound that reveal Sir John's deep and intrinsic love for the miniaturistic charm of these enchanting pieces. Britten's 'Sinfonia da Requiem' was another Barbirolli speciality and this is one of many recordings available. However it is intriguing to observe the special attention and alertness that the Concertgebouw players impart to the music that takes on an added grandeur. However it is the Dvořák Seventh that is the real highlight of the disc as it is a version to die for! Sir John handles the music with real imagery and heart-on-sleeve emotion that almost rivals Kertész and Sejna, my other preferred versions in this landmark work.
Here is the 1985 Nimbus release 'Benjamin Britten: Works for String Orchestra' performed by English String Orchestra conducted by William Boughton with Roger Best on viola. This particular Nimbus release has been out of print for some time now, but all of these works by Britten has been included on various later and more recent Nimbus releases.
This Collector's Edition presents a challenge to reviewers. There's so much of it. I could never do it any sort of justice if I approached this as if reviewing a smaller set. This, after all, comprises 37 CDs. As it is all I have been able to do is to sample, reminisce about known recordings and write around the subject. With this caveat stated, let's make a start.
There are three principal strands of Britten recordings. These are broadly tied into and defined by record companies, artists and eras. First we have Britten recording Britten for Decca.
Ida Haendel’s sinewy and athletic reading of the often under-rated Britten combines toughness with a cumulative dramatic impetus which is hard to resist. Berglund and the Bournemouth players respond with a terse and argumentative vigour, suitably balanced between resignation and defiant rhetoric, especially in the closing Passacaglia. The Walton Concerto, also dating from 1938-9, is played with an apposite blend of inscrutable panache, as in the irrepressibly brilliant central movement, and elsewhere, a sensuous, if occasionally over-indulgent languor. Rare lapses in the finale can be safely overlooked, in a performance of eloquence and undisputed stature.