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Handel, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brittten / Marriner

Handel / Beethoven / Mendelssohn / Britten
Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Ica Classics   Catalog #: 5064  
Composer:  George Frideric HandelLudwig van BeethovenFelix MendelssohnBenjamin Britten
Performer:  Anthony Rolfe Johnson
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SIR NEVILLE MARRINER and ACADEMY OF ST MARTIN-IN-THE-FIELDS

George Friedrich Handel:
Solomon, HWV 67: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
Concerto Grosso in A major, Op. 6, No. 11, HWV 329

Ludwig van Beethoven: Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op. 133 (arr. N. Marriner)

Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, “Italian”

Benjamin Britten: Les illuminations, Op. 18*

*Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, tenor
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Neville Marriner, conductor

Recorded from St John’s, Smith Square, London, 23–24 May 1974 (Handel), Royal Albert Hall, London (BBC Proms Concerts), 25 August 1975 (Beethoven), and 12 August 1983
Read more (Mendelssohn, Britten)

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: Enhanced Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Booklet notes: English, French, German
Running time: 86 mins
No. of DVDs: 1

R E V I E W:

SIR NEVILLE MARRINER, ACADEMY OF ST MARTIN IN THE FIELDS Neville Marriner, cond; Acad of St. Martin in the Fields ICA ICAD 5064 (DVD: 86:00) Live: London 1974, 1975, 1983

HANDEL Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Concerto Grosso in A, op. 6/11. BEETHOVEN Grosse Fuge. MENDELSSOHN Symphony 4, “Italian.” BRITTEN Les Illuminations

I suppose most of us have by now become inured to the idea that “chamber” means one-to-a-part, especially in Baroque music, but even the music of later periods has been on a diet in recent years. It’s certainly cheaper that way, regardless of the accuracy of the assumption that this is somehow more “authenticke” than a more generous approach. Neville Marriner never felt it necessary to get on that bandwagon, even as he absorbed some of its performance discoveries, such as crisp articulation and fleeter speeds. This DVD, covering a decade of the ASMF’s 50-year career, shows how it was done.

Through its first dozen or so years, Marriner led from the first violinist’s chair, and we can see what happens in the two Handel pieces from 1974. The intensity of the concentration of all the players and the simple, even discreet, nods from Marriner that set them going are a lesson not in control but in collective expression. Handel’s Sheba was a favorite of Thomas Beecham, albeit heavily tarted up in full orchestral array. Marriner and the Academy take it as it is, and use their modern instruments with an awareness of what Handel might have heard without imaging that they are reproducing it. The queen’s arrival is joyful rather than stately. This is also true of the concerto grosso. The string playing is lean, but not timid. These two pieces were recorded by the BBC in the then-recently renovated St. John’s, Smith Square, and the space and the music are well captured. The passing autos and the evident passing time of day lend a quotidian flavor to the enterprise.

For some reason, Marriner thought it a good idea to realize Beethoven’s quartet movement, the Grosse Fuge , as a piece for small string orchestra. This performance, from a BBC Proms concert in 1975, does not make a strong case either for the band or the arrangement. It is, frankly, leaden and a bit sour.

This disappointment is wonderfully redeemed, however, in the following performance of Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony, in a Proms recording from 1983. Here, the lightness of touch we could hear 10 years earlier in the Handel comes alive again in Mendelssohn’s most buoyant music. This is, simply, a fine, well-balanced, even elegant, performance and is a pleasure to hear.

The same concert presented Britten’s orchestral song cycle Les Illuminations , sung by a clarion Anthony Rolfe Johnson. Singer, conductor, and orchestra are at one here in this gripping exploration of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetic world. But for one small niggle, this would go to the top of my list of performances of this piece, Britten and Pears notwithstanding. The niggle is the BBC’s sound, which favors the singer and puts the orchestra into a slightly hollow and opaque background. Why the group did not go into a studio the next day to record it properly is a mystery, but I am glad to have this version. As far as I can tell, this is the late Anthony Rolfe Johnson’s only recording of this piece, alas. Apart from the Beethoven, then, this all makes a fine program.

FANFARE: Alan Swanson Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Solomon, HWV 67: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by George Frideric Handel
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1749; London, England 
2.
Concerti grossi (12), Op. 6: no 11 in A major, HWV 329 by George Frideric Handel
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1739; London, England 
3.
Grosse Fuge for String Quartet in B flat major Op. 133 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Classical 
Written: 1825-1826; Vienna, Austria 
Notes: Arranger: Marriner. 
4.
Symphony no 4 in A major, Op. 90 "Italian" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833; Germany 
5.
Les illuminations, Op. 18 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor)
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USA 

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