In celebration of Benjamin Britten’s 100th anniversary, EMI Classics releases Britten: Chamber & Instrumental Works. English composer Benjamin Britten had a great affinity with chamber music from an early age; it provided him with the perfect medium for experimenting with and assimilating a wide variety of musical styles and techniques. Featuring a selection of quartets, suites and sonatas, as well as some of the many works that Britten wrote for distinguished soloists of his time, this 6-CD set is a fitting tribute to one of the 20th century’s most accomplished chamber music composers.
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
Benjamin Britten's suites forRead more solo cello have been extensively documented. The diversity and scope among various recordings of these works seems remarkable, given that the oldest of them was written only in 1964. Mstislav Rostropovich recorded his Decca accounts of Britten's Op. 65 Cello Sonata and solo Suites Nos. 1 & 2 in the late 1960s. In the sonata, the partnership between composer and cellist produces a performance of unsurpassed natural authority. Rostropovich premiered Britten's last cello suite on December 21, 1974. It was their last meeting; he never could bring himself to record it, and thus his cycle remains incomplete, which removes it from contention. Among those who have completed the trilogy, Pieter Wispelwey's idiosyncratic account on Channel Classics deserves high praise, as does Torleif Thedéen's arresting BIS cycle.
These suites are rapidly becoming the province of the young guns of the cello world. The latest, and in my view the most outstanding exploration yet, is this new cycle from Norwegian virtuoso Truls Mørk. These performances are exceptional in all respects. As a technician, Mørk is incredible--he overcomes the huge obstacles presented by this music with complete assurance. Take for example the Presto movement of Suite III; it's rarely sounded completely in control on disc, but it does here. Although Mørk's astounding mechanical ability enables him to regularly outclass Rostropovich, he also manages to engage the sensual and inward-looking aspects of this music with sensitivity. In the last suite, he gives a darkly measured reading, delivered with all the technical rigor you'd expect, and the Russian prayer for the dead at the close distills doubt and fragility through utmost simplicity of expression. These performances are effortlessly shaped, and the cellist is never tempted to push the music beyond its own naturally unfolding pace. An exceptionally moving disc, and in my estimation, the finest traversal of the Britten suites yet to be recorded.
--Michael Jameson, ClassicsToday.com
Ovid Metamorphoses, Cello Sonata, Suite
It's the lesser Britten we encounter on this disc, with works which might command little attention if we didn't know the major compositions they echo or anticipate. Distinctiveness of style is all-pervading, even so, and these generally first-class, finely recorded performances make an attractively varied programme.
The Elegy for solo viola (1930) is one of those early pieces which reveal not only a precocious technique but also an expressive depth to which many of Britten's early critics were strangely deaf. On the evidence of the Suite for violin and piano (1934-5) one might not blame them, even though to hear the final ''Waltz'' (with its strong echoes of Debussy's L'isle joyeuse) as a flamboyant display piece and nothing more is to miss overtones of anxiety and foreboding that would become crucial to Britten's early operas.
The Ovid Metamorphoses (1951) may be the merest trifles compared with the larger-scale works of the immediate post-war period, but in their melodic spontaneity and formal poise there is nothing trivial about them. It is perhaps in its relative lack of melodic freedom that the Cello Sonata (1961) disappoints: only in the solo suites did Britten achieve a complete creative response to Rostropovich's unique musical personality. But the sonata is still expertly crafted.
I almost suspect conscious intent on the part of Moray Welsh and John Lenehan not to imitate the fervent Rostropovich/Britten style in their performance. By comparison, they sound cool, at least at first, though the climaxes have appropriate intensity and the overall impression is good. Similarly, Roy Carter is less tempted than some oboists to point up every twist and turn of the Metamorphoses. This is a beautifully controlled performance, attractive in its very understatement. As for the Elegy and the Suite, they are outstandingly well played.
-- Gramophone [7/1995]
Piano Music, Duo Piano Music
Britten was a superb pianist, and as a composer he always preferred to have the piano to hand. Strange then that his solo piano works should be on the whole so disappointing. The facility is – as you’d expect – striking, but depths are avoided in favour of that typical idealised boyish charm (not to everyone’s taste) and occasional flashes of mercurial wit and/or naughty-boy wrong-note humour. Stephen Hough is at his lucid, seductive best, and the recordings serve him and duo-partner Ronan O’Hora well; but it’s the two-piano works which leave the strongest impression – the humour has a sharper edge, the invention more contrapuntal muscle and emotional force. Still, none of it is really great Britten.
Performance: 5 (out of 5); Sound: 5 (out of 5)
-- Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine
Either side of a hiatus of thirty years, during which opera had first call on his attentions, Britten wrote string quartets, among the first and last pieces he completed. A number of impressive if somewhat unmemorable products of his brilliant youth precede the first numbered quartet, composed in 1941. No. 2 followed four years later; No. 3 not until 1975, premiered the following year, a fortnight after Britten’s death. The surefooted Endellion Quartet are a safe recommendation, equally at home in the vivid, impulsive juvenilia and the spectral death-thoughts of Britten’s final utterance in the medium.
Phantasy for String Quintetby Benjamin Britten Performer:
Nicholas Logie (Viola)
Endellion String Quartet
Period: 20th Century Written: 1932
Suite for Cello solo no 1, Op. 72by Benjamin Britten Performer:
Truls Otterbech Mork (Cello)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1964; England Date of Recording: 1998-2000 Venue: Ris Church, Oslo, Norway Length: 25 Minutes 16 Secs.
Suite for Cello solo no 2, Op. 80by Benjamin Britten Performer:
Truls Otterbech Mork (Cello)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1967; England Date of Recording: 1998-2000 Venue: Ris Church, Oslo, Norway Length: 23 Minutes 52 Secs.
Suite for Cello solo no 3, Op. 87by Benjamin Britten Performer:
Truls Otterbech Mork (Cello)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1972; England Date of Recording: 1998-2000 Venue: Ris Church, Oslo, Norway Length: 24 Minutes 24 Secs.
Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6by Benjamin Britten Performer:
John Alley (Piano),
Alexander Barantschik (Violin)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1934-1935; England Date of Recording: 12/14/1994 Venue: Conway Hall, London, England Length: 15 Minutes 58 Secs.
Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 65by Benjamin Britten Performer:
John Lenehan (Piano),
Moray Welsh (Cello)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1961; England Date of Recording: 12/01/1994 Venue: Conway Hall, London, England Length: 22 Minutes 14 Secs.
Waltzes (5) for Pianoby Benjamin Britten Performer:
Stephen Hough (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1923/1969; England
Lullabies (2) for 2 Pianosby Benjamin Britten Performer:
Ronan O'Hora (Piano),
Stephen Hough (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1936; England
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Great Music !May 15, 2013By alain girard See All My Reviews"Beautiful discovery ! Britten was a unknown composer for me. Very British and a soul music. Bravo ! And, very good price for the quality.... Thanks Arkiv !"Report Abuse
A fine centennial Britten chamber music collectionApril 30, 2013By W. Snyder (Greenbelt, MD)See All My Reviews"As a Britten admirer I was delighted to be able to get most his chamber music in one excellent collection from EMI. I would recommend it to anyone. The performances may not be the very best, but they are very good. For example the cello suites have been recorded by many great cellists beginning with Rostropovich, but I found Truls Mork's interpretations here to be as good as any- very well thought out and technically excellent. Ditto for the string quartets by the Endellion Quartet. It was also good to have pieces for solo oboe and quitar, which I did not know, but enjoyed greatly. All-in-all, a worthy centennial release."Report Abuse