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Britten: Spring Symphony, Etc / Gardiner, Philharmonia

Release Date: 06/10/1997 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 453433   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Alison HagleyCatherine RobbinJohn Mark AinsleyRichard Savage,   ... 
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monteverdi ChoirPhilharmonia OrchestraSalisbury Cathedral Boys Choir,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

John Eliot Gardiner directs a memorable and thoroughly invigorating account of Britten's vernal paean. Right from the start, one registers the exceptional refinement and transparency of his approach, to say nothing of the exciting realism of DG's sound (how subtly, for example, the bass drum 'tells' at the very outset). So it follows that the introduction is less mysterious than usual, with textures arrestingly clear and pristine. No praise can be too high for the marvellously nimble and extremely well-focused contribution of the Monteverdi Choir (witness their ardent showing in "Now the bright morning star") or the Philharmonia's superbly disciplined response throughout (in that same number, listen out for those exhilaratingly Read more full-throated horns). The Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral also emerge with great credit.

High-spots abound: the smiling, easy sway of "Spring, the sweet Spring" (whose bird-call cadenzas are delightfully attended to); an exceptionally perceptive "Waters above", whose truly pppp diminuendo conclusion leads magically into "Out on the lawn I lie in bed"; the terrific bounce and clean-limbed swagger of the triptych comprising Part 3 (both "Fair and fair" and "Sound the flute" come close to perfection); and, of course, the joyous, bank holiday clangour of the finale (splendidly dapper and affirmative on this occasion), with its heart-stopping appearance of "Sumer is icumen in" - a moment which never fails to send shivers down the spine (though the four horns might perhaps have cut through the orchestral fabric just a touch more than they do here?). One other tiny observation in this latter number: I craved just a touch more gleeful relish from the Philharmonia's brass and horns in their three irresistibly sassy brillante interjections beginning at 420" (fig. 22 in the Boosey & Hawkes miniature score).

Gardiner's soloists are very good, if perhaps not quite a match for the finest. John Mark Ainsley stands out for his honeyed tone, and the intelligence of his word-pointing always catches the attention. I liked, too, the warmth and projection of Alison Hagley's soprano (the central portion of "The Driving Boy" shows her to best John Eliot Gardiner talks to James Jolly on page 14 about his long experience of Britten's music and the range of repertoire that fires his enthusi- asm Photo DG/R0,k advantage). Catherine Robbin, on the other hand, faces stiff competition from the likes of the incomparable Kathleen Ferrier (on Eduard van Beinum's 1949 world premiere) and Dame Janet Baker (on the Previn), and in the extended Audensetting at the work's heart it's Baker who brings the darker, more personal intensity to bear (Gardiner, by the way, captures extremely well this music's blend of limpid sensuousness and nagging disquiet).

Overall, then, while not displacing the composer's classic 1960 Decca recording (and what astonishingly vivid and stunningly balanced sound that realization boasts!), Gardiner's new version can hold its own against all-corners and should give much pleasure to seasoned Brittenites. Both a cappella fill-ups are also a treat: first, we get an exquisitely poised and supremely touching Hymn to Si Cecilia, followed by a rare outing for the delicious Five Flower Songs (completed in 1950, a year after A Spring Symphony). Much recommended.

-- Gramophone [6/1997]
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Works on This Recording

Spring Symphony, Op. 44 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Alison Hagley (Soprano), Catherine Robbin (Alto), John Mark Ainsley (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monteverdi Choir,  Philharmonia Orchestra,  Salisbury Cathedral Boys Choir  ... 
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; England 
Date of Recording: 06/1995 
Venue:  Walthamstow Town Hall, London, England 
Length: 0 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Language: English 
Hymn to St Cecilia, Op. 27 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Richard Savage (Bass), Emma Preston-Dunlop (Soprano), Gillian Ross (Soprano),
Peter Mitchell (Tenor), Penny Vickers (Alto)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monteverdi Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942; England 
Date of Recording: 06/1995 
Venue:  Walthamstow Town Hall, London, England 
Length: 9 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Language: English 
Flower Songs (5), Op. 47 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monteverdi Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; England 
Date of Recording: 06/1995 
Venue:  Walthamstow Town Hall, London, England 
Length: 10 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Language: English 

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