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Benjamin BRITTEN - Young Apollo op16. Double Concerto in B minor. Two Portraits. Sinfonietta op1   Gidon Kremer (violin); Yuri Bashmet (viola); Nikolai Lugansky (piano) Halle Orchestra/Kent Nagano Erato 3984-25502-2 [58' 36'']



This CD fills an important gap in the Britten discography, containing world premiere recordings of the Two Portraits, the Double Concerto and the version for small orchestra of the Sinfonietta. The CD begins with "Young Apollo" for piano, string quartet and string orchestra (1939). A characterful seven-minute flourish, it anticipates minimalism, particularly Michael Nyman, sounding like brief phrases snatched from Schubert variously repeated rather than developed symphonically.

The Double Concerto (1932) with violin and viola soloists is more conservative in idiom, betraying some influence of Frank Bridge (Britten's teacher at he end of the 1920s). The Rhapsody is affecting whilst the Finale is an imaginatively scored Tarantella. Colin Matthews has scored the work from Britten's own sketches, claiming the result "virtually 100% Britten"

The Two Portraits of 1930 are less adventurous. The first, inspired by a schoolfriend, is a Mahlerian movement for strings with touches of Berg. The second is a lyrical self-portrait (the viola was Britten's own instrument).

The influence of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony on Britten's Sinfonietta is matched by a strong element of Englishness, as exemplified by Bridge and Ireland, in the score.

The recording (in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall) is quite reverberant and details in the instrumentation are sometimes lost. Whilst the playing of all three soloists is of the highest quality throughout the disc, the Halle strings occasionally sound thin and overstretched by the music. One has only to imagine Britten himself conducting the First Portrait (judging by the composer's own classic recordings of his Simple Symphony and Frank Bridge Variations) to realise how much more vibrant and passionate the string playing could be. Nonetheless, this disc is welcome for its enterprising repertoire and for illustrating Britten's burgeoning talent. It could turn out to be the most important recording of Kent Nagano's tenure as Music Director of the Halle Orchestra.


Paul Conway


Paul Conway

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