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Britten: Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto / Shelley, Little

Britten / Little / Bbc Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 05/28/2013 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10764   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Howard ShelleyTasmin Little
Conductor:  Edward Gardner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Gardner's BBC Phil leads the rough-and-tumble with its sharp-edged wind and brusque brass, and the exuberant Howard Shelley matches them every inch of the way. Another strong Britten release from Chandos.

– Gramophone

This is a desirable Chandos release of two marvellous Britten concertos that deserve to be far better known. The playing from soloists Shelley and Little is exemplary. They are accompanied by the outstanding BBC Philharmonic under Edward Gardner’s sensitively controlled baton.

– MusicWeb International

BRITTEN Piano Concerto. Read more class="SUPER12">1 Violin Concerto 2 Edward Gardner, cond; 1 Howard Shelley (pn); 2 Tasmin Little (vn); BBC PO CHANDOS CHAN 10764 (76:30)

Let’s cut to the chase. The reason this recording of Britten’s early concertos is so good lies in the conducting of Edward Gardner. He makes such sense of the music; on a moment-to-moment basis he understands the point of what Britten wrote, and conveys it to his sharply responsive orchestra. In the orchestral passage leading to the cadenza in the Piano Concerto’s first movement he pushes forward, finding savagery in the off-beat accented chords and frenzy in the scurrying strings, bringing purpose to a passage that can sound perfunctory in lesser hands. He finds steel in the troubled central section of the otherwise pensive waltz of the second movement. Even more than the composer in his celebrated 1970 recording, Gardner reminds us that, for all its surface sparkle, this concerto hails from the politically tense end of the 1930s.

It doesn’t hurt either that Gardner has in Shelley a soloist who clearly loves the work. For once, the theme of the third movement (Impromptu) does not seem to meander through a random series of unrelated chords, but instead becomes a purposeful statement of intent. Shelley makes the glissando passages in the first movement’s cadenza register as sprays of color in a miniature tone poem, a far cry from the “lack of taste” that contemporary critics complained about at the work’s premiere. It is hard to believe, but British critics gave the precocious young composer quite a pasting in the 1930s. Harsh treatment was one of the causes of Britten’s escape to America, according to the excellent new biography by Paul Kildea. The early critical response seems just as gratuitous as the virtual deification the composer received late in life. Even in the 1980s, composer/critic Christopher Headington could dismiss the piano concerto’s “rather relentless bravura and 1930s brittleness.” In this performance, those attributes are turned to subtle, musical ends and a work of power and substance emerges.

The original third movement, a set of variations that Britten replaced with the Impromptu in 1945 is included as an addendum. It is given the same detailed and thoughtful treatment as the rest of the concerto, but is not a unique feature of this disc: recordings by Joanna MacGregor (Naxos), Ralf Gothoni (Ondine), and Steven Osbourne (Hyperion) all include it.

There have also been several fine recordings of the Violin Concerto, composed in Canada in 1940. Again, Gardner provides special insights. When the soloist’s opening theme is repeated by the orchestral violins, how beautifully he shapes the phrasing, and the work’s climaxes are expertly prepared throughout. Little’s violin is attractively warm-toned. She is less incisive than Anthony Marwood in his pointedly modernist reading with Ivan Volkov (Hyperion), and not as rich as Vengerov (EMI), who with Rostropovich transforms the work into a lush canvas, but her artistry pays dividends nonetheless. Adding to the disc’s quality is the sound: exceptionally clean and natural. This is one of the most distinguished releases yet in Britten’s centenary year.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano in D major, Op. 13 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Howard Shelley (Piano)
Conductor:  Edward Gardner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938/1945; England 
Venue:  MediaCity UK, Salford 
Length: 33 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 15 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Tasmin Little (Violin)
Conductor:  Edward Gardner
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939/1958; England 
Venue:  MediaCity UK, Salford 
Length: 33 Minutes 19 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Delightful Britten January 6, 2016 By Fred H. (Grants Pass, OR) See All My Reviews "Britten's music is delightful and bright and the performance wonderful. The CD itself was not so good and we could not complete the disc as it got stuck in the 3rd band." Report Abuse
 A Must Have Britten Disc June 26, 2013 By Michael R. (Huntington Woods, MI) See All My Reviews "Both the Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto are among Britten's most accessible works. They present the composer's mature style of 20th Century romanticism. Tasmin Little and Howard Shelley are two of the finest British players of their respective instruments. Edward Gardner is rapidly gaining the reputation as one of Britain's finest conductors especially with this repertoire. Putting these musicians together is almost insuring great music, and they do not disappoint. Chandos provides the kind of sonics we have come to expect from this British company that has established itself as one of the leaders in English classical music recordings over the past several decades. Listeners familiar with these works will delight in these performances while listeners new to this music will be transported to a world they will want to know more. In all respects this is a meaningful addition to the catalog." Report Abuse
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