This is a handy and wallet-kind entry appearing
in Britten’s centenary year. Those seeking a good way to add Britten's
key orchestral works to their listening experience and shelves or virtual
library need look no further. More fanatical enthusiasts will have already
beaten their path to Decca’s numbered edition (3000 pieces) of
The Complete Works. It’s a luxury box comprising 65 CDs, a DVD
and a substantial hardback book (4785364
That set is complemented by the EMI
Britten Collector’s Edition
of which the current disc is CD
1 in that 2009 set of 37 discs. I see that EMI Classics are now bringing
out a series of 6-CD themed Britten boxes as a tribute in centenary
year. No doubt it will appear there as well. In the past it has served
as a bargain price Ultraviolet series entry.
Performances and digital recording quality are satisfying. Pešek
is notably tender and favours this aspect over the drama. The first
movement and finale of the Sinfonia
are ravishing in this
respect. We are reminded of the finer string writing of Roy Harris and
its emotional kernel as well as the influence of Shostakovich. Pešek
is up against stern analogue competition from another part of the same
stable: LSO/Previn. The latter’s 1970s EMI Classics recording,
originally issued in quadrophonic, remains a force in the land and still
sounds wonderful. Pešek is, by contrast, understated and lacks
the last degree of spectacular bite that I associate with the Previn.
Previn’s Anglophile tendencies were well known though otherwise
limited to RVW and Walton; so far as early 20th century Brits are concerned;
he never moved into Moeran or Bax territory, more’s the pity.
His Britten in this case was clearly aided by EMI's elite technical
team of the two Christophers - Bishop and Parker. They were also onsite
for Previn's Spring Symphony
. Their results form an exemplar
for the control desk fraternity to this day.
All these comments extend to the Grimes
pieces. By the
way, I am delighted to see the Passacaglia
included. The whole
has a suitably symphonic sound. So far as Britten's own Decca versions
are concerned they are in a class of their own and extend to include
the YPG which was not part of the Previn package. By the way Pešek's
is in 6 tracks, grouping families of variations with one
track for each group and for the Theme and for the final Fugue.
No notes whatsoever from Virgin but these three works make a respectable
and often touching collection. While Previn remains pre-eminent in the
sequence and the Sinfonia
Pešek is much better
than merely good.
A sturdy entry in the Britten100
Britten discography & review