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Britten: Reflections / Thwaite, Jones


Release Date: 11/19/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573136   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin BrittenFrank Bridge
Performer:  Matthew JonesAnnabel Thwaite
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Given the generous treatment of Benjamin Britten’s works on recordings for the past five or six decades, it’s not surprising that in this 2013 “Britten Year” certain record labels have been accordingly forthcoming in reminding listeners of the treasures in their catalogs—mostly repackaged reissues in the form of boxed sets, often offered at a significant, very attractive bargain price. We know about the works in question, from the choral masterpieces to the works for solo voice and orchestra (or piano), not to mention the ground-breaking, genre-changing operas and instrumental works, nearly all written with specific performers (and/or occasions) in mind, many of whom are featured in the above-mentioned reissues.

This is all
Read more wonderful for those who are just beginning a Britten collection, or who wish to investigate some area of the composer’s output that they haven’t already explored. But here violinist/violist Matthew Jones and pianist Annabel Thwaite offer something for those who already have, but want more. Britten, especially in his early composing years–namely his teens–wrote a lot of music that either was performed and more or less forgotten, re-used in some form in later pieces, or was shelved and unpublished until after the composer’s death. On this excellent recording, we get an enlightening look at some of those forgotten or neglected gems.

Besides the piano, the viola was Britten’s instrument, and although this program features one of his finest works for that instrument–the oft-recorded Lachrymae Op. 48–it importantly highlights several rarities, including what claims to be a world-premiere recording titled Etude for Solo Viola, an ambitious work by any standard, but especially for a 15-year-old who presumably was able not only to write it but to play it. Similarly impressive are the Elegy for unaccompanied viola (written a year after the Etude) and (a year later) Two Pieces for Violin and Piano, with engaging titles “The Moon” and “Going Down Hill on a Bicycle (A Boy’s Song)”. These pieces are neither stabs at associative respectability owing to teachers or currently fashionable composers, nor are they derivative in any other sense: like all of Britten’s music, it just seems to come, unapologetically and inexplicably, from somewhere outside the predictable or conventional–and yet it still manages to reside happily in the world of tradition and compatibility. As you listen, you’re not thinking about the possible age of the composer, but rather how idiomatic the writing, and how engaging the listening experience.

Besides the Lachrymae, the only other work on the disc with an opus number is the Suite for Violin and Piano, which has justly enjoyed its share of recorded performances, the most common one EMI’s continually repackaged version by pianist John Alley and violinist Alexander Barantschik. Britten wrote this for his violinist friend Antonio Brosa, and performed it with him during the mid-1930s when he was otherwise occupied writing music for film documentaries, with titles such as Coal Face, Men Behind the Meters, and the one that actually became famous, Night Mail. Britten’s experience writing very evocative music to specific time constraints and to tight deadlines seemed not to exceptionally challenge him, but rather to inspire his already pent-up creative impulses and ideas. It’s fascinating to hear what other music lay in his imagination, aside from his nine-to-five demand to depict the face of a coal miner, the daily routine of a meter reader, or the rush of a mail train hurtling through the night. These carefully wrought chamber pieces are more than worthy of a place alongside similar creations by much older and more revered names.

And that is the point: all of the works on this disc show the pleasures and sometimes prickly accompaniments that exquisitely revealed themselves to a teen-aged composer as he imagined the sound of a viola and piano–or solo viola, or violin and piano–and how that sound could be made into something inevitable, natural, and free. The wonderful thing is that he wasn’t necessarily following any particular model–he never really did. And so even these early pieces have an unfettered, independent quality that invites repetition after repetition.

And the performers give these works the care and respect they deserve–an impressive labor of love, since much of this music is neither easy to play nor likely to attract a lot of attention on the concert circuit. Nevertheless it’s hard to imagine more accomplished or committed advocates for this music than Jones and Thwaite. This is a disc that deserves a place on everyone’s “Britten Shelf”–and if you don’t have one of those, now’s the time.

-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934-1935; England 
2.
Reveille for Violin and Piano by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; England 
3.
Lachrymae for Viola and Piano, Op. 48 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; England 
4.
Elegy for Viola solo by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; England 
5.
Reflection for Viola and Piano by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930 
6.
Pieces (2) for Violin and Piano by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931 
7.
Etude for Viola solo by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929 
8.
There is a willow grows aslant the brook, H 174 by Frank Bridge
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; England 
Notes: Arrangement: Benjamin Britten 
9.
Valse for Violin and Piano in B major by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Annabel Thwaite (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925 

Sound Samples

Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6: I. Introduction: Andante maestoso
Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6: II. March: Allegro alla marcia
Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6: III. Moto perpetuo: Allegro molto e con fuoco
Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6: IV. Lullaby: Lento tranquillo
Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6: V. Waltz: Alla valse, vivace e rubato
Reflection
Reveille
Elegy
2 Pieces: No. 1. The Moon
2 Pieces: No. 2. Going Down Hill on a Bicycle (A Boy's Song)
Etude
There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook (arr. B. Britten for viola and piano)
Valse in B Major
Lachrymae, Op. 48, "Reflections on a Song of John Dowland"

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