Between 1965 and 1967 Benjamin Britten and Sviatoslav Richter teamed up at the Aldeburgh Festival for piano duo programs that were taped by the BBC for future broadcast. Music and Arts brought out this material on several CD issues, which stemmed from excellent tape sources. The selections on Decca's "official" release sound marginally fuller with less tape hiss. Do the performances live up to their legend? In most ways, yes.
Kent Nagano and the Hallé continue to commit to CD less celebrated portions of the Britten canon. Last year there was the four-act Billy Budd; before that the premiere recording of a concert version of the radio drama The Rescue. Now come two more firsts, recordings of the Double Concerto - prepared from Britten's almost complete sketches by Colin Matthews and presented by Nagano at Aldeburgh in 1997 - and the Two Portraits from 1930. The second of these is a portrait of Britten himself, a surprisingly plaintive and reflective meditation for viola and strings in E minor. The image is belied by the rest of the music on the disc, which is buoyant, energetic, young man's music all written before Britten was 26. Big guns Kremer and Bashmet are brought in for the Double Concerto and give of their impassioned best. Nagano and the Hallé are appropriately spirited and vigorous throughout the disc. It's not mature Britten, but clearly points the way forward and is worth getting to know.
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.
"…Hickox's set has achieved the status of a classic for Britten recordings." ~sa-cd.net
Released in the Britten anniversary year, Richard Farnes, the Music Director of Opera North who led their critically acclaimed production of 'The Turn of the Screw' in 2010, conducts an all-English cast in Britten’s most ingeniously crafted opera, including Andrew Kennedy, Sally Matthews, and 11-year old Michael Clayton-Jolly in the role of Miles.
Leonard Slatkin and the BBC Symphony Orchestra deliver a coolly new-age performance of Colin McPhee's proto-minimalist masterpiece Tabuh-Tabuhan, very similar to Dennis Russell Davies' recording for Argo. It's very well played and very beautiful although quite different from Howard Hanson's speedier and more dynamic rendition on Mercury Living Presence. The Britten/McPhee recording of Balinese Ceremonial Music has been available previously but makes an apt coupling, especially in the company of this new suite (arranged by Donald Mitchell and Mervyn Cooke) from Britten's The Prince of the Pagodas. This contains a huge slice (some 50 minutes) of the ballet, including the exotic "pagoda" music inspired by the composer's trip to Bali, but unaccountably omits some of the best numbers from the usual suite, such as the final pas de deux of Belle Rose and the Prince. All the same, like the McPhee it's very well played and finely recorded too, making this enterprising release well worth owning from just about any point of view.
Long recognized as an outstanding chamber musician, Anthony Marwood has more recently been making waves as a concerto soloist, with two contributions to the Romantic Violin Concerto series and now a disc of Britten with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov. The youthful Violin Concerto, with its mix of anguished lyricism and changeability of mood nods to both Berg (whose own Violin Concerto had made a profound impression on Britten) and Prokofiev but the result is entirely personal.