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Britten's Orchestra / Michael Stern, Kansas City Symphony Orchestra


Release Date: 11/10/2009 
Label:  Reference Recordings   Catalog #: 120   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Michael Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kansas City Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

In a brilliant display of orchestra power and poetry, Michael Stern leads an all-Britten program that speaks eloquently and to the music's heart in a strong and simple way.

In a brilliant display of orchestra power and poetry from the country's heartland, Michael Stern leads the Kansas City Symphony in an all-Benjamin Britten programme that speaks eloquently and, as much as possible in such spectacular recordings, to the music's heart in a strong and simple way. In The Young Person's Guide, the timpani are in particularly noble tune, the strings are sumptuous and the trilling flutes are guaranteed to delight children just as are the exotic oboes, the goof-off clarinets and the moustache-twirling bassoons. Throughout
Read more Stern successfully treads that uncertain line between the Guide being just a lollipop and a serious piece for critics to ponder.

In the more substantial Sinfonia da Requeim and the Interludes from Peter Grimes, Stern mostly chooses to be rich and solid and build the sound up from the amazing low strings and brass. Perhaps there's a loss of tension at the end of the "Lacrymosa" but it's more than redeemed by a ferocious kettle drum and some consoling playing from the strings. The big, emotional tune in the last movement is glorious without being sentimental. The Grimes Interludes, with the Passacaglia placed before the Storm to stretch the music out into a more satisfying dramatic scheme, are magnificently played, with viola-player Christine Grossman rapturous in the Passacaglia

As always with this great audiophile label, the skill and commitment of Reference's recording team need to be accorded special recognition. In either stereo or HDCD, the sound is better than being in the hall: rich in detail, gold in colour and equal to any volume. Richard Freed's comprehensive liner-notes and a full-colour photograph of the spectacular Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, Missouri, in which the recording was made, rounds out a release that could be on short lists for Grammy nominations for 2010.

-- Laurence Vittes, Gramophone [01/2010]

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This is an impressive recording of these frequently encountered pieces. The Young Person's Guide features excellent solo work from all departments, and a clarity of texture akin to Britten's own recording. Michael Stern's ability to let us hear not just the tunes but the imaginative colors of Britten's accompaniments gives the music additional substance and continuity. The outer movements of the Sinfonia da requiem have real lyrical eloquence, though the central Dies irae could be a touch nastier, as could the "Storm" from the Four Sea Interludes.

Still, in this latter work Stern's decision to play the Passacaglia between "Moonlight" and the "Storm" makes a great deal of sense, and the remaining movements have the same remarkable level of detail and color as The Young Person's Guide. "Sunday Morning" has a particularly lively bounce, and in "Moonlight" you can actually hear the triplet rhythm of those little exclamations for xylophone and winds. Of course, the amazingly lifelike sonics help, but their very naturalness shows that credit for the interpretations belongs to conductor and orchestra and not the engineers. A first-rate experience, on both audiophile and musical grounds.

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

1.
Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Michael Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kansas City Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; England 
2.
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Michael Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kansas City Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; England 
3.
Peter Grimes: Sea Interludes (4), Op. 33a by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Michael Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kansas City Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944-1945; England 
4.
Peter Grimes: Passacaglia, Op. 33b by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Michael Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kansas City Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; England 

Sound Samples

The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell, Op. 34
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20: I. Lacrymosa
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20: II. Dies Irae
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20: III. Requiem aeternam
Peter Grimes: 4 Sea Interludes, Op. 33a: No. 1. Dawn
Peter Grimes: 4 Sea Interludes, Op. 33a: No. 2. Sunday Morning
Peter Grimes: 4 Sea Interludes, Op. 33a: No. 3. Moonlight
Peter Grimes: Passacaglia, Op. 33b: Passacaglia, Op. 33b
Peter Grimes: 4 Sea Interludes, Op. 33a: No. 4. Storm

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