This DVD of the recently issued Britten/Pears mini series recorded by the BBC for television way back in the 1960's and the 70's is for all intents and purposes another resounding success. All four priceless documents were thought lost, but this Idomeneo seems to have had a charmed life more than others. Indeed, three days before the Aldeburgh première, the hall was left in cinders and it is something of a miracle that the television production could actually go ahead. First broadcast in May 1970, critics and viewers alike were unanimous in their praise. Sung in English to a version prepared by Maisie and Evelyn Radford, Mozart's first operatic masterpiece is even more telling. A lot of credit should go to Britten himself, who not only conducted with committed ardour, but also prepared a musical edition all of his own. The staging has a classical dignity and avoids austerity altogether and both Pears and Harper give impressive performances. (Gerald Fenech)
Celebrated tenor Mark Padmore joins the Britten Sinfonia in some of the most beautiful English music for voice and orchestra. The centrepiece is Britten's magical evocation of twilight and nightfall, the 'Serenade' (with Stephen Bell, horn). In Gerald Finzi's war-time cycle 'Dies natalis', the ecstatic mood reflects a child's wide-eyed wonder at the world. Britten's poignant 'Nocturne' completes the programme.
…[an] iconic recording . . . Who but Pears could have intoned "Strange Meeting" with such spectral eeriness? Who has ever matched the furious authority of Fischer-Dieskau's "Be slowly lifted up"? Listening again reminds of just how extraordinary Vishnevskaya's voice was, too: darkly voluptuous with a core of steel. Her anguished cry of "Lacrimosa" has lost none of its visceral power…
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.
The Third String Quartet is one of Britten's last works before his untimely death and shows that the composer was still at the height of his powers. The music, inspired by the beauty of Venice, begins tentatively with a delicately wistful opening which contrasts with the passionate outburst that follows it. It is tempting to wonder if Britten had intimations of mortality when he wrote this work.
Due to the profundity of Beethoven's late string quartets and the significance composers and critics have placed on them, few modern string quartets have been regarded as masterpieces on the same level. Bartók's, yes, and Shostakovich's, but almost no other set of twentieth century quartets has been similarly elevated. It is almost axiomatic, then, that Benjamin Britten's three string quartets have not received comparable recognition or reverence, because these bright, transparent works deny most expectations of the genre.