Customer Review

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A second opinion, 17 April 2010
This review is from: Britten: Cello Symphony, Sinfonia da Requiem (Audio CD)
It is so strange how one's relationship with a piece of music can evolve. This disc has sat on my shelf for more than ten years, played only a handful of times. Respected because of my profound admiration for its author, but unloved because of my chronic failure to comprehend the first few bars of the Cello Symphony, the opening item, which instilled in me a first impression of the whole disc as one of teeth-grinding disquiet. A recent revival in my interest in Britten has caused me to revisit the disc, whereupon I decided to try and get an alternative take on the offending work via the recent Naxos recording, Britten: Cello Symphony. Persistence with the Naxos version of the Cello Symphony led me to some kind of tentative understanding of the thing, whereby I came to conclude that the work was a coded criticism of the Soviet system under which Rostropvich, its dedicatee, was obliged to abide. I could conceive of no other reason that Britten might have penned such a lump of gauche and lopsided distress. As such I came to view the work as one that was morally admirable, but dated and no longer pertinent to our times. Having arrived at this conclusion I thought to give the Britten/Rostropovich version one last listen before consigning it to the nevermore shelf, and then the magic happened. Suddenly this piece just opened up to me like a thousand petalled lotus, and I was falling into it through layer upon layer of depth and detail. Spurious historicist interpretations left far behind, I found myself inside a world of beauty that bought to mind the intricate inner workings of a living cell, or the ebb and flow of lights across a vast night time metropolis. What also was apparent was how, with the exception of a little tape hiss, utterly superior in every way this version was to the recent Naxos one. The Cello playing on the Naxos is smoother, tighter, but rather less characterful and expressive for it. My rather negative estimate of Rostropovich's playing has been completely revised. Britten's command of the orchestra ensures a much richer dynamic interplay between it and the soloist. And the recording is much more vivid despite its age. One is right in there among the instruments which at times are incredibly ferocious.

The second item on the disc is the magnificent Sinfonia da Requiem. It is perhaps a shame that this piece was not placed first on the disc because it would have created an entirely different first impression, and I might have found the impetus to win through to its delights so much earlier. To my mind the Sinfonia da Requiem is one of those near perfect pieces of music, full of beauty, drama and immense power, and immaculate in form and proportion. If there was one piece which I would choose to show a newcomer Britten at his most accessible, and indeed writing at his closest to the English tradition from which he emerged, it would be this piece. Once again the recording and the direction are outstanding. In particular it would seem very special care has been taken to capture the sonic details of the timpani, which figure so prominently in the work. I wonder if there was any other composer who was fortunate enough to preside over the premiere recordings of his work, so many of which even today remain definitive. Being a Requiem the opening and body of the work are suitably sombre and portentous, but the finale breaks through to a radiant beauty that emphatically implies a belief in, or at least a hope for a transcendent afterlife.

The third work on the disc is the Cantata Misericordium, a work for choir and orchestra, with tenor and baritone. This is a continuation of the marvellous collaboration with Pears and Fischer-Dieskau, that began a short while before with the mighty War Requiem. Profound and dramatic, it is another deeply serious work that continues the mood of the previous items.

So, by a circuitous route, this disc has at last been emancipated so as to stand proud and unabashed alongside the rest of my Britten collection.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Dec 2010 09:28:10 GMT
Oral Balm says:
Well I'm glad the beauties of this music were finally revealed to you, but what took you so long? Some of us got it first time round.
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John Ferngrove
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Location: Hants UK

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