Tuesday, 5 November 2013

BIS follow up the Prom première of Britten’s Elegy for Strings with a Première recording by the Camerata Nordica on a fine new Britten release

As the centenary year of the birth of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) continues,  www.britten100.org/home  BIS Records www.bis.se have released a new recording by the Camerata Nordica www.camerata.se under their Artistic Director Terje Tønnesen with Catherine Bullock (viola) http://sparebankstiftelsen.no/en/Dextra-Musica/Musicians/Catherine-Bullock  in performances of the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10 and Simple Symphony, Op.4.

This new release also has Britten’s arrangement for viola and string orchestra of his Op.48 Lachrymae as well as the early Two Portraits (1930) and a world première recording of his Elegy for Strings (1928). 
BIS 2060

There is a beautifully controlled transition from the Introduction into the Theme of the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10 before a finely paced Adagio where the Camerata Nordica provides an unusual amount of passion. There is a vivid March with playing of terrific precision, something which is brought to the Aria Italiana and Bourrée Classique. A really rumbustious Wiener Walzer has playing of great flair with the Moto Perpetuo showing just how fine this orchestra is. A similar passion and depth as the Adagio is given to the Funeral March, with the players really biting into the phrases. The Fugue and Finale brings more terrific playing, full of swagger, flair and precision – a great finale. It is wonderful how this orchestra handle the transition to the quieter section, before slowly building back up, passionately, with lovely string tone to a finely nuanced coda.

Terje Tønnesen and the Camerata Nordica give a terrific performance in this frequently recorded work.

Whilst not plumbing the depths, the Simple Symphony Op. 4 (1933-34) receives a crisp and lively Boisterous Bourrée, a terrific Playful Pizzicato, full of fun. The Sentimental Saraband is given all the thought and care possible to bring out the ardour of this lovely melody whilst the Frolicsome Finale brings a fine conclusion to this performance.

Britten originally wrote Lachrymae, Op. 48a (1950, arr.1976) for viola and piano in 1950. Towards the end of his life he arranged it for viola and small string orchestra. It is subtitled ‘Reflections on a song of Dowland and, indeed, the earlier composer remains pretty well veiled until toward the end of the work. The rising motif that opens Lachrymae is expertly done by the Camerata Nordica, a misty opening before a real theme appears. These players handle all the subtle harmonies and textures brilliantly. When, at last, Dowland’s song appears on the viola it is a wonderful moment played here by Catherine Bullock with much the feel of a viol. This is a moment of pure genius from Britten.

The sixteen year old Britten didn’t call his two early sketches Two Portraits for string orchestra (1930); this was done by later editors. The first ‘portrait’, D Layton (David Layton) refers to a student at Trinity College whom Britten met and E B B was, of course, a self-portrait (Edward Benjamin Britten). Britten had planned a trio of sketches but the third remained incomplete. D Layton: Poco Presto whilst having all the hallmarks of early Britten, is extremely tonally free as though Britten was playing with new ideas. Exactly what character is being displayed is hard to judge;  however, given its nature Layton must have been a somewhat complex character. E B B: Poco lento features a solo viola of Catherine Bullock, a far more restrained piece, quite introverted at times, certainly thoughtful, with a traditional feel to the melody. This was a remarkably mature work from the young composer.

Britten’s Elegy for Strings was written in April 1928 whilst having regular lessons with Frank Bridge www.cph.rcm.ac.uk/CPHBridge . It received its first performance at a BBC Prom concert on 31st August this year (2013) by the Camerata Nordica conducted by Terje Tønnesen that included Britten’s Simple Symphony and Lachrymae with solo violist Catherine Bullock. This BIS recording is its première recording and is the earliest work on this disc. Rich string sonorities open with a timeless melody. After the opening theme, the orchestra peps up with a buoyant theme that dances along before descending to a quieter, gentler passage before moving ahead again. The music once more slows and darkens before leading to a quiet coda. Whilst there are no really obvious Britten fingerprints, this work seems a remarkable achievement for the fourteen year old composer.

With a world première recording and such fine performances, this is an extremely attractive Britten release. This generously filled disc has a remarkably vivid recording made in Algutsrum kyrka, Sweden as well as excellent booklet notes from Arnold Whittall.
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