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Berg & Britten: Violin Concertos

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Product details

  • Orchestra: BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Paul Watkins
  • Composer: Alban Berg, Benjamin Britten
  • Audio CD (8 Mar. 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Warner Classics
  • ASIN: B0001BFI64
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,605 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Product Description

Product Description

The Berg Concerto is a world premiere recording. Because Alban Berg died before the first performance of his Violin Concerto, he was not able to correct the score after it had been prepared by the copyist. The work has been performed and recorded many times since its premiere in 1935 but when the Berg scholar Professor Douglas Jarman compared the commonly-accepted score with the original manuscript, he found over 50 errors. Consequently he was commissioned by the Alban Berg Foundation to prepare a new edition from the original manuscript which was then premiered by Daniel Hope in Vienna in 1996.
The Concerto was composed in memory of Manon Gropius - daughter of Alma Mahler Gropius and Walter Gropius - who died suddenly at the age of 18. The second work on this CD, Benjamin Britten’s violin concerto, was composed as a memorial to victims of the Spanish Civil War.
Daniel Hope, protégé of Yehudi Menuhin and former student of Zakhar Bron, has built a multifaceted career as a soloist and chamber musician with various partners and also as the youngest ever member of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio. He has also initiated and taken part in numerous conceptual projects from period performances to spoken word, Indian music and jazz. He has worked with such diverse artists as the period instrument ensemble Concerto Köln, actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, jazz pianist Uri Caine and vocalist Bobby McFerrin.

BBC Review

Berg never heard his Violin Concerto. He died three months before the first performance in Barcelona in 1936...but a 22 year old Benjamin Britten was there, and his own Violin Concerto written three years later appears to owe a debt, not just to the Berg Concerto (which the young Englishman found sublime and shattering) but also to the location of the premiere. This was Republican Spain just moments from civil war, and Britten the pacifist finished his concerto in America in 1939, after leaving war-torn Europe behind him. These concertos feel like natural partners on disc, and it's astonishing that this seems to be the first time they've appeared together.

Berg first...and because the composer wasn't around to oversee that first performance, a number of uncorrected errors made it into the published manuscript. This is the first recording of Douglas Jarman's corrected edition, and most of the changes will pass unnoticed...but there's one passage at the start of Part 2 where the violin suddenly soars a whole octave higher than we're used to, making an even greater impact when the soloist plummets to earth. Of course this concerto has had some legendary performances over the years by some of the great violinists of the 20th century, and while this new one isn't likely to supplant them, there's more than just the fidelity of the manuscript to consider here. Hope's performance is finely judged, but it's the detail and clarity of the orchestral reading that's most telling, conducted by cellist Paul Watkins, Hope's sometime partner in chamber music.

It's the coupling that really counts though. The Britten Concerto still qualifies as a neglected masterpiece, despite the attentions of Maxim Vengerov and Rostropovich in a powerful recent recording. Hope and Watkins give up nothing at all to their Russian rivals; in fact this boldly expansive performance exposes the dark, painfully beautiful heart of Britten's Concerto in as searing a reading as any I've heard. There's a vulnerable edge to Hope's sound that's perfect for the final pages of the concerto, leaving the listener in a shattered landscape, emotionally drained.

The recording quality is excellent, the balance is natural, and the presentation is fine: fascinating notes. I'd be very surprised if the pairing of Berg and Britten Violin Concertos isn't tried again - it's mutually beneficial. But any newcomer will need something special not to be found wanting against readings as rewarding as these.

Like This? Try These:

Britten: Suites for Solo Cello (Paul Watkins)

Britten: Violin Concerto; Walton: Viola Concerto (Maxim Vengerov)

Webern: String Quartets (Artis Quartett) --Andrew McGregor

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Contemp on 26 Sept. 2007
Format: Audio CD
Bought this after hearing the Britten on BBC Radio 3, and I wasn't disappointed. However, I found myself listening more and more to the Berg. Hope's playing is wonderfully judged, and he is justly earning himself a great reputation. I can't fault the orchestra either. It's great to hear the influence of Berg's masterpiece on the young Britten, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Hope's future work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Philip Rundall on 2 Jan. 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I heard the Britten concerto from this disc recently at a friend's house and loved both the music and the quality of this performance. I ordered the cd next day and found that I also liked the Berg, which was new to me. The disc is still not installed on the shelf as it remains on a table with the little pile that get regularly played ......
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14 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 7 Mar. 2004
Format: Audio CD
This collection of violin concertos is of the highest standard, an inspirational album of hope, sorrow and mellow love. Daniel does not only play the strings of his violin but he plays the strings of any appreciative listeners heart. This deeply emotional album has deffinately got a hold on me, how about you?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Both works receive incomparable performances 10 Jan. 2009
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I don't think this 2003 recording from Daniel Hope was much noticed on our side of the Atlantic. The catalog is full of notable versions of the Berg Violin Concerto, and the Britten is almost never played here. But in all respects this is an ear-opening experience. Hope and the cellist-turned-conductor Paul Watkins are protoges of the great Yehudi Menuhin, and they have picked up his enormous integrity and spiritual directness.

However they inherited their style, here is a perfect amalgam of conductor and soloist. They have set out to clarify the complexities of the Berg by merging violin and orchestra into a single vloice (the miking reflects this by not forcing Hope into the spotlight), and for the first time I found it possible to follow Berg's imagination from beginning to end. Not that the erading feels studied or academic. Hope, born in 1974, belongs to a generation of musicians for whom the work's thorny idiom comes as naturally as Bach. Compared to his free, flexible, lucid, reading, those from Stern, Perlman, and Mutter seem stilted and even confused.

Hope brings similar revelations to the Britten, which he plays -- as he does the Berg -- much more inwardly than expected. Nothing is done for show, and yet every measure is totally involving. Britten wrote in harmonies that are modernist but more conventional than Berg's -- his violin concerto followed Berg's by three years. On hearing the world premiere in Barcelona in 1936, the young Britten described the Berg as "shattering" and "sublime." Without imitating it, Britten wrote a work that can be just as mysterious and almost as devastating. The two are linked by their unnerving, grief-tinged, at times harrowing reaction to the Nazi era.

Berg was specifically motivated by the tragic death of an 18-year-old girl, the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius: the concerto's two parts depict her in life and then in death, leading to an angelic transfiguration. Britten more generally captures the haunted atmosphere of a darkened Europe in the late Thirties. Both composers place disjointed styles cheek to jowl. In the Berg we get a Viennese waltz, Austrian landler, and variations on a Bach funeral chorale, "Es ist genug" (echoing Jesus's "It is finished" on the cross). Britten's juxtapositions are more puzzling -- there are quasi-tango rhythms in the first movement, Mahlerian drum taps, and a wide array of desperate outcries in the Passacaglia-form finale.

In short, this isn't an easy listen, and I don't want to fall into the trap of recommending it to sound superior, as if one deserves a prize for getting through thick underbrush. The listening here is truly enjoyable and deeply emotional. Hope, like Menuuhin, has the rare, selfless ability to get to the very heart of music, as if he sees past the notes to the composer's most heartfelt motivations. He made me feel that both these works really matter -- what more can one ask?

P.S. 2013 - In an interview about this concerto, Gil shaham connects it to the Spanish Civil War, with the opening rhythm an approaching march, the plaintive violin in the finale a woman screaming, and overall the structure one of disintegration.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Solid Performances of Two 20th Century Violin Concerto Masterpieces 16 Nov. 2008
By Grady Harp - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Why Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto, Opus 15 is not a staple of the orchestra repertoires around the world remains a mystery. It is seldom performed, is rich in inventive writing, contains passages of striking virtuosity for the performer, and contains some of Britten's most beautiful melodic lines. It may take an evening with a live performance (as recently with the Los Angeles Philharmonic , Midori as soloist) to stimulate classical music lovers to reconsider the excellence of this work, or it may take hearing a performance on recording as overwhelmingly beautiful as this coupling of the Britten with the better known and more often performed Alban Berg by the young Daniel Hope to lift the work to the public conscience. Whatever reason brings the listener back to this rather early work by Benjamin Britten is rewarded with an appreciation with just how extraordinary is this concerto.

Daniel Hope is an artist's artist, placing the composer's intentions first and 'showmanship' last. His reading of both the Berg and Britten are played with a clarity of tone and phrasing that allows him to move from the technically 'impossible' passages into the lyrical ones with complete ease. Of note is the manner in which Hope is in conversation with the orchestra (here the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Watkins) during the Part II Adagio of the Berg where the orchestra is in Bach like chorale while the ornamentation is from the precise writing for the violin. Or both the opening and closing passages of the Britten when the silences and sustained lines are of paramount importance.

Others may hail the impressive Vengerov recording (coupling the Britten with the Walton Viola concerto) as more exciting, but for this listener the intimacy Daniel Hope achieves here is overwhelmingly beautiful. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, November 08
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Intense Performances 14 May 2010
By David A. Wend - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is the first recording of the critical edition of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, correcting errors that the composer certainly would have made had he lived. An example of the kind of errors, recorded in the booklet, is that the composer failed to copy two ledger lines and an octave sign to the manuscript full score.

Alban Berg was completing work on his opera Lulu when he received the commission to write the concerto from Louis Krasner. The offer was especially tempting as Berg's music was performed with less frequency, thanks to the Nazis. The chances of Lulu being performed were slight, so the commission was a welcomed offer. Much has been made of the influence the death of Mannon Gropius (daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius) had on the concerto, as evidenced by the dedication "to the memory of an angel." Berg decided to make the concerto a kind of requiem for Mannon; however, he also included autobiographical elements. The full score was completed on August 11, 1935. Days later, the composer was stung by an insect and the wound turned into an abscess that later led to blood poisoning. Berg died just days after returning to Vienna on December 14.

The Violin Concerto is a remarkable mix of 12-tone and tonal melodies, mixing waltzes and folk melodies with a Bach chorale. This recording of the concerto was recently cited by Gramophone in the May 2010 issue as their choice for the best performance. Daniel Hope is intense indeed and Paul Watkins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra turn in a startling performance. The final bars are magical. The care with which the orchestra and soloist phrase and color the music is something not to be missed.

Benjamin Britten was present at the premiere performance of Berg's Violin Concerto in April 1936 in Barcelona. For him, it was a shattering experience; one that he followed up by composing his own Violin Concerto in 1938 - 9. Britten's concerto is in the traditional three movements. The first movement opens with percussion and strings leading into an engaging and somewhat aggressive melody. The music becomes softer and reflective opening into a waltz-like theme. The Scherzo is full of restless energy with the melody punctuated by percussion and brass at points. The orchestra reaches a climax giving way to a cadenza. The cadenza prepares the way for the Passacaglia, which has a variance of emotions from lamentation to a majestic affirmation.

As with the Berg concerto, Daniel Hope and Paul Watkins turn in an intense performance. Both the Britten and Berg concertos have an intensity of feeling that makes them a perfect coupling. While I would not want to be without Britten's own performance of his Violin Concerto (with Mark Lubotsky as soloist), this disc will take its place next to it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Review of the Britten Concerto 2 Aug. 2008
By B. R. Merrick - Published on
I already have a recording of the Berg, so I didn't download it. I had never heard Britten's Violin Concerto until I purchased this version by Hope, Watkins and the BBC Symphony. I've heard the BBC Symhony under Slatkin and Wigglesworth, and here, once again, they prove themselves worthy.

Britten's harmonies and musical ideas can be subtle, even muted at times, so it is important not to forget to emphasize when emphasis is necessary. As it is played on this recording, his Violin Concerto can obviously stand with the greatest of the twentieth century, along with Bartók's Second. All the way from Britten's opening, inviting-but-eerily-strange chords, to the sonorous, bass-driven swirling climb in thirds near the end of the final movement, the orchestra is dramatically centered, never dull or plodding.

And Hope is an able and fiery player. (You can hear him tackle the opening chords of the second movement with the music sample provided here.) Now that I've discovered yet another masterpiece of the Western art tradition, I doubt I will ever find a need to go searching for another interpretation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An excellent disc 14 Nov. 2013
By enthusiast - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I don't generally write reviews until I have lived with a recording for a while: I never know if a first love will cool or an initial liking will blossom or deepen. This one is one I like all the more each time I listen to it. I've had it for three months and have listened to it perhaps 20 times. That in itself shows how stimulating and enjoyable I find it because I buy a lot of CDs and don't always listen to them more than a few times in the first months of owning them.

Britten's own recording with Marc Lubotsky of his early Violin Concerto is attractive and very lyrical but is rather a low voltage affair. Vengerov tried to present it as a larger work but his account was merely prosaic and lacked magic. Hope's account convinces, where Vengerov failed, that the work is a major Violin Concerto. With Paul Watkins as an equal partner he presents a powerful work - they are strong but never neglect the dreamy side - and much as I have loved the Lubotsky/Britten recording I have no doubt that Hope and Watkins give us a much greater account of the work. Hope's tone is not as rich as many violinists but here he makes this work for him, playing with rigour and robustness. Hope's account is surely a leading recommendation for the Britten and seems more keenly focused and alive than the otherwise even more powerful account by the great Frank Peter Zimmermann.

Hope also presents a very strong coupling and does so by giving us a very distinctive and first class account of a much recorded work. Of course, we have long known that the Berg Concerto is a masterpiece and there have been many excellent recordings of it. Often these have showcased the passionate neo-romantic side of the work but sometimes they have been cooler. Both approaches can work but I find Hope's as convincing as any. Where Faust in her recent recording with Abbado is wildly passionate and romantic - her's is a very powerful reading - Hope is passionate, beautiful and unashamedly a modernist. Again there is a rigor to the playing that ensures coherence and communication and there is a beauty here that is very modern.
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