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Britten: Piano Concerto | Violin Concerto [Tasmin Little; Howard Shelley; Edward Gardner] [Chandos: CHAN 10764]

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Product details

  • Conductor: Edward Gardner
  • Composer: Benjamin Britten
  • Audio CD (29 April 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Chandos
  • ASIN: B00C30ZA64
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 126,426 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Violin Concerto, Op. 15 - Howard Shelley/BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
  2. Piano Concerto, Op. 13 (1945 version as well as original third movement, Recitative and Aria) - Howard Shelley/BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Product Description

Product Description

The prolific nature of Benjamin Britten's operatic and vocal output makes it is all too easy to forget that prior to the phenomenal success of Peter Grimes in 1945, he was primarily known as a composer of vividly orchestrated instrumental music. Tying in with the 100-year anniversary in 2013 of the composer's birth, we here present two such works, performed by the BBC Philharmonic under Edward Gardner. Tasmin Little and Howard Shelley are the soloists in the Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto, respectively.

These concertos reflect two very different sides to the composer's character. The Violin Concerto, which Britten completed in 1939, is essentially tragic and weighty in tone, perhaps reflecting his growing concern with the escalation of war-related hostilities. On the other hand, the Piano Concerto, written the previous year, is generally lighter and brighter, more transparent and simpler in style.

On this disc we have recorded the Piano Concerto in Britten's familiar revision of 1945, but we also include the original third movement, 'Recitative and Aria', which Britten replaced with a new and extended movement entitled 'Impromptu'. Howard Shelley writes of the decision Britten made to revise the concerto: 'Why he found it necessary to replace the slow movement, I cannot quite understand as far as I am concerned both options are masterpieces, and with this in mind we have also recorded the original version, which is fantastical and fabulous, jazzy and endlessly dramatic.'

The Violin Concerto was the first composition Britten completed after arriving in the US in 1939. Our soloist, Tasmin Little, writes of the work: 'One of the miracles of the piece is the way that the structure is conceived as an ongoing journey. Britten does not conform to the usual pattern of the classical concerto... rather the shape of the work emerges organically as each thought leads invariably to the next. A favourite moment of mine is near the end of the first movement where the violins play the opening melody and I weave in and around them with delicate pizzicato.'


Britten's Piano Concerto must surely be one of the greatest piano concertos of the twentieth century -thus Howard Shelley's opening comment in his note from the performer in the accompanying booklet, a comment which has never enjoyed universal agreement. Even today they are some who simply do not grasp what the work is about. But then, they haven't heard this performance. I have been waiting for some time to hear Tasmin Little in this violin concerto and she does not disappoint. In total this is a simply magnificent recording which it would be impossible to improve upon. IRR OUTSTANDING --IRR, June'13

This may not be a flawless reading( some of Tasmin Little's double stopping being just short of immaculate), but Little and Gardner plumb its emotional heart in a performance of great passion and spontaneity. Performance **** Recording ***** --BBC Music Magazine, July'13

Edward Gardner's operatic background is proving a major selling point for Chandos Britten series. Each new release comes as though hotfoot from the stage and the highy dramatised performance of the Pian Concerto here thrives as a result. Another string Britten release from Chandos. --Gramophone, July'13

Edward Gardner starts Britten's Piano Concerto with amazing ferocity and drive. Winds and horns make light work of their repeated quavers, and Howard Shelley relishes the fast tempo when he makes his entrance a few seconds in. What a fabulously entertaining work this is, but don t search for profundity. The sardonic edge that s found in several early Britten works is never far away, but there s so much wit and energy, and there are several moments where Britten can't resist turning on the charm. There's a beguiling soft tutti passage following the thunderous first movement cadenza, with solo woodwinds tiptoeing through a sequence of unlikely chords technically simple, but accomplished with great flair. It s a large-scale piece, but without a wasted note. Shelley excels in the third movement Passacaglia, where Britten's neat harmonic progression is treated to several unlikely transformations. The March is thrilling, and leaves an appropriately unsavoury aftertaste. Gardner and Shelley provide a bonus in the shape of Britten's original third movement, a Recitative and Aria. It's fun, though maybe a little too clever for its own good; Britten's decision to axe it was correct. The coupling is Tasmin Little's account of the emotionally-charged Violin Concerto. gorgeous.white-hot playing from the BBC Philharmonic and close-up, widescreen --Artdesk, 20/07/13

Edward Gardner's operatic background is proving a major selling point for Chandos Britten series. Each new release comes as though hotfoot from the stage and the highy dramatised performance of the Pian Concerto here thrives as a result. Another string Britten release from Chandos. --Gramophone, July'13

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In the liner notes, Tasmin Little writes about having listened a lot to Ida Haendel's classic recording with Paavo Berglund and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Had it not been written in black and white, I think it would have been obvious to those of us that love this work that Little had used the great Ida's performance as a template for her own recording. Tempi are similar and there's a no-nonsense approach which reminds us of one of the greatest performance of a violin concerto ever to be recorded! (IMHO). The sound quality that Little produces could best be described as searing, especially in the work's many passages high up the e string where intonation is (almost!) as good as the great veteran's. It's no shame for me to offer the opinion that Little comes very close to the very high bar that Haendel sets.

What makes this disc special for me is the amount of orchestral detail that's revealed, due in equal measure to the conductor, orchestra and recording. (The fortissimos are VERY loud!). Clearly, both soloist and conductor are of equal mind in their approach to the work.


I have to be honest and say I don't know the piano concerto at all but, having listened to it twice now, I feel that this performance is going to be an outstanding guide to learning it.
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Britten is known mainly for his prolific operatic and vocal output.
I came to like him after listening to his great opera "Peter Grimes" and his beautiful vocal work "Les Illuminations", especially the wonderful and haunting song in it "Being Beauteous".
This CD gave me the chance to get into Britten's instrumental music world.
I believe these concertos are among the best concertos of the last century.
I loved the Violin Concerto.
My feelings for the Piano Concerto is changing in time to more positive. Due to critics' responses, Britten has replaced the third movement with a new version and this CD includes the original version as well, which allows one to compare both versions easily and it is quite interesting. I think the original version is beautiful as well and I wonder why he replaced it.
I recommend this CD to music lovers who like to get deeper in search of knowing the composer himself as well.
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Britten's music is unbeatable with great performance and recording
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x8e20ad20) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e558bc4) out of 5 stars New Versions of the Britten Concertos 19 Jun. 2013
By J Scott Morrison - Published on
Almost unknown these days, for reasons that completely escape me, Britten's sole piano concerto (1938-39) has fared extremely well in recordings. There is the classic recording with Sviatoslav Richter who made the first recording of it Britten: Piano Concerto / Violin Concerto, Opp. 13,15; this has always struck me as both fortuitous and ironic that the great Russian would record the great Briton (Britten), their connection being, one supposes, their limitless love of Shostakovich whose music inspired them both. And that recording remains definitive if only partly because Britten is the conductor of the performance. Although it was recorded in 1970, its sound holds up fairly well to modern standards. Then there is the recording by Joanna MacGregor on the budget Naxos label Britten: Piano Concerto which is also quite fine. Another British virtuoso, Stephen Osborne, has recorded it Piano Concerto Op.13 Diversions Op.21 Young Apollo although the orchestral contribution by the BBC Scottish SO strikes me as a little less idiomatic somehow. Well, what of this one? First, let me say that the BBC Philharmonic are in marvelous form. The orchestral writing in the Piano Concerto is a virtual concerto for orchestra and these Mancusian musicians are fully equal to its demands. Howard Shelley, a great pianist in the Romantic literature (his Rachmaninov is unfailingly superb), is right up there with Richter and MacGregor. He has all the sparkle required for the fast movements and the third movement is eerily evocative. That third movement was, of course, a later addition to the concerto, replacing the original 'Recitative and Aria' that Britten played in the première of the work. He decided it didn't work and replaced it a couple of years later. It is, however, included in this recording as Band 5 and it strikes me as a marvelous piece which I'd known from both Osborne's and MacGregor's recordings.

The Violin Concerto (1940), although it came a bit later, is an example of Britten's evolving style. It is rather more mature, if one can use that term, and sounds even more Shostakovian, especially in the marvelous finale, a searing Passacaglia which strangely presages the Passacaglia in Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto (1947), perhaps an example of Britten inspiring Shostakovich. The only other recording I know (and love) is that of Mark Lubotsky, coupled with the Britten/Richter piano concerto. My impression is that Tasmin Little plays the work a bit more histrionically than Lubotsky and although that is valid, it will be for some perhaps an acquired taste.

This disc does not displace the classic Richter/Lubotsky/Britten but it offers its own pleasures and its recorded sound is modern, sounding excellent even in the mp3 version. I've not heard the CD version but can only imagine it is even better sounding.

Scott Morrison
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e4db2a0) out of 5 stars Too good to overlook 2 Jun. 2015
By Bahij Bawarshi - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Pianist Howard Shelley says that Britten's Piano Concerto "must surely be one of the greatest piano concertos of the twentieth century." Perhaps the assessment could be moderated to "one of the most appealing." Be that as it may, the concerto in its four movements displays much pianistic and orchestral brilliance, keeping the listener fully engaged for its duration of 33 minutes. The 'Toccata' (first movement) is a tour de force of rousing music. Shelley puts in a scintillating performance to match the dynamic orchestration, and is equally impressive when playing a remarkable cadenza that runs for two and a half minutes and makes you wish for more. There's something Lisztian there. Britten adds a nice balancing touch toward the movement's end by introducing sweet-sounding solo woodwinds, perhaps as precursor to the following 'Waltz.' This second movement is beautiful as well as vibrant, where Britten again proves what a brilliant orchestrator he was. Viola, piccolo and clarinet solos give the movement a poetic start; a vivacious middle section led by the piano eventually gives way to a tranquil ending typical of the movement's charm. The third movement ('Impromptu') is a passacaglia with a mournful ground theme first introduced by the piano then dramatically taken up by the orchestra. Not the upbeat music of the other movements, the theme and variations running on top of it provide the balance Britten must have been seeking when he replaced the original third movement with this one (more on that below). The finale ('March') shares the vigor of the first movement, with the piano in some passages becoming part of an overpowering orchestra. Again, all so brilliant, yet I have to express a reservation: I would have preferred here less orchestra, more piano, without giving up the idea of the march. It's subjective of course, but this movement slightly - only slightly - tarnishes an otherwise fine composition.

The recording includes the third movement that Britten discarded in favor of the Impromptu. It ought to be recorded more often, for it is well worth saving from oblivion. As a stand-alone piece, it includes everything - drama, melody, nimble pianism, great orchestration and lyrical solo woodwinds. I tried playing it as the third movement of the concerto, as originally intended, but have to agree that Britten was right when he decided the Impromptu suited the concerto better, good as this one is. If you get the disc, try it by all means; maybe you'll form a different opinion.

If the Piano Concerto is very good, the Violin Concerto is a masterpiece. Having listened to it several times, I can say that it compares admirably well with any of the great, better known violin concertos of the twentieth century. In recent times it has been recorded several times, compensating somewhat for the time when it was relatively ignored for no good reason. Tasmin Little recorded this version with the BBC Philharmonic under Edward Gardner in 2012. She traverses a difficult work with ease. Her tone is on the delicate side, which suits considerable portions of the concerto that have been written for the high, and highest, registers. Yet in the more robust sections, I found myself wishing at times that the violin sounded more full-bodied - not that it is weak but that the accompanying orchestration is powerful. She performs the melodious parts gracefully and, where needed, passionately. The scherzo second movement (marked 'Vivace') gives her the opportunity to display superb virtuosity as she negotiates some very fast, tricky passages. And what she does in the passacaglia finale expresses intense emotion, even pain; for this monumental movement, if not the whole concerto, seems to be an elegy. It is profound, darkly dramatic, and has a morendo ending worthy of Shostakovich.

The concerto opens with a rapid five notes on the timpani, repeated three times. The notes become a refrain that occurs incessantly at various stages of the first movement, and in one instance is taken up by the violin against a quiet orchestral background 19 times in a row (if I've counted correctly); it appears again repeatedly in the second movement's cadenza; and in the third movement, towards the end, if you listen carefully, the violin plays it legato. More than just a theme, Britten seems to have used it as a structural element of the concerto, accentuating the character of the work as a sweeping lament; because wherever the refrain-theme appears, it casts a mournful shadow.

The few reservations aside, this is one CD, recorded in excellent audio, to keep and play over many times. It is indeed too good to miss.
2 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e4db324) out of 5 stars Violin Concerto 19 Feb. 2014
By Sharon B Schneider - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I was disappointed to find that the violin concerto was not the opening on the cd which meant I had to find and select it during play. I was not interested in the piano concerto but it was part of the disc package. Unfortunately my memories of the violin concerto did not match my listening experience. I will have to consider the works from a totally new perspective and start over with my listening this time. I am sure Britten has many wonderful surprises in store, my new discoveries await.
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