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I had long wanted to buy a recording of the piano concerto, but after hearing part of the violin concerto on the radio - and admiring it - I opted for this recording of Richter instead of the more recent Osborne version.

Britten's own recordings have long been held up as definitive and this coupling is no exception. Where some British composers look to France, Germany or Scandinavia for inspiration, I notice the Russian hand upon Britten's shoulder. Isn't that a quote from Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.1 in Britten's essay? The wit, virtuosity, ironical and parodic features in Britten's exciting early works are surely a byproduct of the Prokofiev-Shostakovich-Stravinsky triad.

Personally, I wonder if the pizzicato motif for the violin isn't repeated ad nauseam, but the concerto gets better as it goes along, being very eloquent, melodic and pathetic. The Piano Concerto is a barnstorming thriller, like the Shostakovich given a boost for Prokofiev's brilliant technique and ably dispatched by Richter.

There's no better disc for getting to know these entertaining concerti, but I also strongly recommend the piano CD on Hyperion: Britten - Piano Concerto; Diversions
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This disc, well recorded in 1970, pairs together Britten's only two concertos which were written towards the end of the 1930's and before there were any obvious signs of his future focus as a pre-eminent opera composer of his generation.

The piano concerto was later revised to the current version in 1945 with the original Recitative and Aria movement replaced with the Impromptu as played here. That impromptu, really a passacaglia, matched the Passacaglia last movement of the violin concerto.

Both concertos are very well played on this recording which, like most if not all of Britten's recordings, has claim to be considered a defining statement of the composer's intent. Britten was well-known as an excellent conductor of his own work. In the case of the piano concerto he has here not only a renowned virtuoso pianist to work with, but also a close friend. Naturally enough the result is one that would be hard to match let alone improve upon.

Much the same can be said about the quality of the playing in the violin concerto with Mark Lubotsky proving to be both an incisive and sensitive player of considerable technical resource. Of the two concertos, the violin concerto has been the more frequently played and the recording with Lorraine McAslan is well worth searching out although copies are hard to find these days.

I would suggest that this pair of recordings is as close to self-recommending as it is possible to be. It makes a strong case for consideration as the obvious purchase option.
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on 4 April 2010
This work came as an exhilerating surprise to me - I had mainly thought of Britten's work as a bit dull. To hear such a rythmic and exciting Concerto beautifully played was A joy. The violin Concerto is exquisite, haunting melody and a swift moving work. Truely two great works for the price of one.
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