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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCITING BRITTEN FROM THE NEXT GENERATION
Gloriana has always been the waif and stray among Britten's operas. Savaged at the time of its premiere by a regiment of critics determined to bring the young upstart down a peg or two and greeted with indifference by a first-night audience there to be seen rather than to listen, it has always struggled to find a place in the repertoire or in the discography of Britten...
Published on 5 Jun. 2011 by Klingsor Tristan

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7 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To much ado, I bid adieux
At the urging of an Amazon friend, I composed a list of the top 100 composers a few years back. The list was based on the number of pages each composer was represented by in three musicological books -- The Penguin Guide to Classical Music, All Music Guide to Classical Music and Ewen's Musical Masterworks from 1953. I selected these books because they were readily...
Published on 25 April 2011 by Larry VanDeSande


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCITING BRITTEN FROM THE NEXT GENERATION, 5 Jun. 2011
By 
Klingsor Tristan (Suffolk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Britten: Cello Symphony, Symphonic Suite From Gloriana, Four Sea Interludes (Audio CD)
Gloriana has always been the waif and stray among Britten's operas. Savaged at the time of its premiere by a regiment of critics determined to bring the young upstart down a peg or two and greeted with indifference by a first-night audience there to be seen rather than to listen, it has always struggled to find a place in the repertoire or in the discography of Britten operas. Even Colin Graham's great production at ENO in the early 70's failed to revitalise it as was expected at the time. Quite why it has remained a relative failure with only one complete recording and comparatively few subsequent productions to its name remains a mystery. At least to me. It's filled with music that shows Britten at the top of his game and the balance of public and private scenes is handled with great dexterity. The Choral Dances and Essex's 2nd Lute Song, both from Act 2, get an occasional airing and that's about it.

Britten was deeply hurt by its reception, but drew an orchestral suite from the material to try and get more exposure of its fine music. Curiously enough, like the proverbial buses, two recordings of this Suite have appeared close on each other's heels. One conducted by the composer himself in 1956 for German Southwest Radio and now this one. The Suite consists of most of the first scene with the choral interjections from the Tilting Ground given to the brass and the conversation between Essex and Cuffe cut with no loss to the musical fabric. It ends with the first appearance of the hymn to Gloriana, `Green Leaves are We', given to the strings. Essex's more familiar 2nd Lute Song follows, sung here with Pears-like tone by Robert Murray. Then there are the Courtly Dances from the Whitehall Palace Scene - wonderful pastiche pieces, re-ordered for the Suite and topped and tailed with the March of the Queen's entrance to make a satisfying little suite within a suite. It ends with the Finale of the opera - Gloriana moritura - this starts before Elizabeth signs Essex's Death Warrant and runs right to the end with the spoken interjections cut, again with no loss to the musical fabric - a very moving sequence, especially if you pick up all the references to earlier parts of the opera.

Gardner proves himself, as you would expect from the MD of ENO, very much a man of the theatre. He catches the urgency of the opening scene and the melancholy of the Lute Song perfectly. The Courtly Dances have plenty of rhythmic vitality and there is real pathos to the finale. A new production/revival at ENO would, I'm sure, prove thrilling and revelatory.

The Cello Symphony is undoubtedly a tougher nut - and seemed tougher still at the time of its premiere - such a leap forward then, even from the relatively recent War Requiem. Here I have to take issue with Larry van de Sande. First up, it really is a Symphony, not a Concerto. The soloist and the orchestra argue on equal terms, indeed in the first movement they exchange roles with the 1st subject material between exposition and recapitulation. And this is one of the few classical sonata-form movements from Britten. Secondly, I would not call it `something of a morose piece'. Rather it is very much a darkness-to-light piece, moving from the dark subterranean rumblings of the opening to the brilliant sunlight of the passacaglia finale - a form that Britten was always very much at home with. And thirdly, I cannot see Shostakovich and his First Cello Concerto as the begetter. For example, the wispy scherzo's antecedents can be found much more strongly in the Scherzos of the Elgar Cello Concerto and the composer's own Cello Sonata. But the shadow that really seems to stand behind this piece is Mahler, a favourite of Britten long before he became so universally popular. Those seismic rumblings in the first movement surely suggest the Introduction of the Third Symphony. And the glowing vision of the Finale's main theme in the middle section of the profound slow movement surely harks back to the very similar structural foretaste of the Finale in the Rondo-Burleske of the Ninth.

The performance on this CD is a strong one in which the soloist, Paul Watkins, clearly has his own committed point of view of the piece. However, none of the recordings of this work quite lives up the passion and the dexterity of its dedicatee, Rostropovich, in his performance with the composer conducting.

Mahler again comes strongly to mind in this performance of the Sea interludes from Peter Grimes. Here, of course, we are on more familiar ground. But I have never felt quite so aware of the influence of the older composer as here - in the textures, in the orchestration and even in some of the thematic material. The opening section of the Storm interlude, for example, seems almost like a direct crib of the second movement of Mahler's Fifth here. Though whether Mahler would have written that wonderful leaping ninth of the `What harbour shelter peace' theme I'm not so sure - perhaps in the light of the opening of his Tenth he would. These are invigorating performances from Gardner and the BBC Philharmonic, imbued with real theatrical experience. It's a shame that the Passacaglia wasn't included as well, because I feel sure that it's emotional depths would have drawn something special from Gardner and his players.

Nonetheless, this a fine and recommendable disc from Chandos, engineered with their usual taste and clarity. As we approach the Britten centenary, it's good to know that his music can still inspire and excite in the hands of the next generation to tackle it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 Sea Interludes, 1 Sept. 2011
By 
Philip Chadwick - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Britten: Cello Symphony, Symphonic Suite From Gloriana, Four Sea Interludes (Audio CD)
One of my favourite pieces of music is the suite from Peter Grimes and this is an excellent version - add to this the cello symphony with the estimable Paul Watkins and you already have a cd worth buying, but then there is also (a new discovery for me) the Gloriana Suite!
You really need no further reasons to buy this - wonderful music superbly performed (and a lovely photograph on the cover used to promote the Aldeburgh Festival).
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four Sea Interludes, 13 Dec. 2012
By 
J. G. MCCUTCHEON (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Britten: Cello Symphony, Symphonic Suite From Gloriana, Four Sea Interludes (Audio CD)
Great orchestral balance and clarity from each section of the orchestra.

Fantastic playing by a great orchestra and a very accurate interpretation.
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7 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To much ado, I bid adieux, 25 April 2011
This review is from: Britten: Cello Symphony, Symphonic Suite From Gloriana, Four Sea Interludes (Audio CD)
At the urging of an Amazon friend, I composed a list of the top 100 composers a few years back. The list was based on the number of pages each composer was represented by in three musicological books -- The Penguin Guide to Classical Music, All Music Guide to Classical Music and Ewen's Musical Masterworks from 1953. I selected these books because they were readily available, did not give preference to composers from any single country, and because they did not necessarily represent only our current time.

The most shocking finding to me in this survey, by far, was Benjamin Britten coming in at No. 20 in the list, right behind Ravel and in front of Chopin. Perhaps becaue I am American, I never considered him a composer of such rank, and never did I pay sufficient attention to his music until that time came. Since then, I have dabbled widely in Britten's music, beginning with the War Requiem, Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Simply Symphony, the Violin Concerto, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Sinfonia de Requiem, A Ceremony of Carols, Peter Grimes, Billy Budd and the music represented on this recording, which includes the sea interludes (shorn of the passacaglia) from Peter Grimes, which I think are probably his most well-known orchestral pieces to music fans.

If you don't know, this recording has been accepted critically as little less than a holy grail of Britten's orchestral music. In the month it was released, both Classics Today (an American-based website) and BBC Music Magazine delegated it as their recording of the month (Classics Today had several, of which this was one.) It is only a matter of time before critics worldwide catch up to this release and delegate it as a contender for classical recording of the year. Its contents are a Symphonic Suite from Gloriana, a failed opera; the Cello Symphony, which is essentially a concerto by another name; and the Four (orchestral) Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, an opera. The recording features a number of young artists from the U.K. including cellist Paul Watkins, tenor Robert Murray and 40-something conductor Edward Gardner, who looks 20-something in the two publicity photos of him that accompany this package. One of Britain's great orchestras, the BBC Philharmonic, does the playing.

Britten composed the Cello Symphony expressly for Mstislav Rostropovich (who introduced it in 1964 under the composer's baton) after seeing the British premiere of Shostakovich's cello concerto in 1960. In four movements at close to 35 minutes, it is something of a morose piece as played here. It has three mysterious negative emotion-dominant movements before a more upbeat passacaglia closes. Unless you live in England, there's not much question to me why you are never likely to have heard it in performance: while something of a mimic to the Shostakovich concerto, it lacks the energy and humanity of that piece, it lacks memorable themes, and is focused on darkness most of the way. Watkins, Gardner and the BBC Philharmonic strongly advocate for the piece but are little match for the Rostropovich recording.

The Symphonic Suite for Gloriana, from the opera of the same name, is much different. Written in 1953 to celebrate the queen's coronation, it is based on Queen Elizabeth I's affair with the Earl of Essex; it revels in Elizabethan dances and rhythms. Its four sections -- a lively introduction called the Tournament, a romantic Lute Song sung by tenor Robert Murray (whose elocution and English are insufficient to overcome Chandos's lack of text); a selection of six courtly dances; and a piece called Gloriana moritua that starts dramatically, reflecting the queen's decision to have the earl executed for treason -- present a chronology of the opera. The suite lasts a bit more than 25 minutes. This is not the only recording; another from recent years on Naxos also inlcudes Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem and Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes.

This is followed by the four sea interludes. These are played at a standard pace with monumental projection and fine playing and articulation in the four sequences -- dawn, Sunday morning, moonlight and storm. The exemplary Chandos recording, which it better than their often homogenized mass, punctuatates the bells, chimes and other instruments, which can all be heard clearly. The timpani bang away unmercifully during the closing fury of the storm, right before single drumbeats accompany vengeful brass that lead to the wind-whipped conclusion. Fine as it is, I put on Handley's 1986 version immediately afterward and was even more turned on -- even in inferior sound with post-echo at the end.

This is definitely a great recording, maybe too great; there is some technical gimmicry going on. When I listened on earphones I could clearly hear the violins dedicated way over to the left speaker. In the Cello Symphony, the timpani seemed to be coming from both speakers simultaneously. Is it my imagination or have we returned to those halcyon days of the 1960s when recordings were made from two sources and mixed to many? I can hardly believe a major recording company would do this in the authenticity era.

So here's a batch of orchestral music from a major European composer, brilliantly played and recorded, and delivered with conviction and elan by young musicians of his native country. I think this is a good collection for anyone looking for something new. It almost certainly will turn your crank if you are an audiophile. For me, it was reminiscent of a recording of Carkl Nielsen's Orchestral Works from a few year's back. That one had critics stumbling over each other declaring it the record of the year, too. And, like the buzz around that one, when I finally heard it, it didn't do for me what it did for them. Maybe this one will do it for you.
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