Benjamin Britten, whose centenary is being celebrated worldwide today and who graces the cover of the current (November) issue, received his first mention in Gramophone in September 1938. In a highly favourable review, Alec Robertson noted, ‘Each one of his works, whether chamber, vocal, or orchestral music, shows a rare grasp of the medium and a remarkable mastery in one so young.’ 75 years have passed since that first review, and this year we have witnessed a flurry of new recordings of Britten’s music, some of them deserve to rank alongside the classic recordings that Britten himself made with producer John Culshaw for Decca half a century ago.
Violin and Piano Concertos
Tasmin Little vn Howard Shelley pf BBC Philharmonic / Edward Gardner Chandos CHAN10764 (7/13) Buy from Amazon A superb modern remake of the Decca original coupling, with both soloists totally inside these virtuoso Britten scores. Read review…
Takács Quartet Hyperion CDA68004 (11/13) Buy from Amazon Possibly the new benchmark recording of the three quartets by one of today’s greatest ensembles. Read review..
Cello Symphony. Cello Sonata. Cello Suites
Alban Gerhardt vc Steven Osborne pf BBC Scottish SO / Andrew Manze Hyperion CDA67941/2 (2/13) Buy from Amazon Shortlisted for a Gramophone Award, this programme of the Rostropovich-inspired cello works in no way suffers in comparison to Rostropovich’s own recorded version.
Jamie Walton Signum SIGCD336 (A/13) Buy from Amazon Philip Higham Delphian DCD34125 (3/13) Buy from Amazon / Read review… Matthew Barley (No 3 only) Signum SIGCD318 (4/13) Buy from Amazon Along with Alban Gerhardt (see above), here are four very different takes on some of Britten’s most introspective music. Higham, Gerhardt and Walton offer all three suites and each find much to say. Matthew Barley gives us the Third in a superbly imaginative programme that’s full of echoes of and responses to the Britten.
Sacred choral music
Choir of New College, Oxford / Edward Higginbottom Novum NCR1386 (5/13) Buy from Amazon The perfect collection of choral music, on two discs, performed by Oxford’s finest college choir. Higginbottom sometimes opts for slower tempos than his predecessors on discs but always to good effect.
Ian Bostridge ten Xuefei Yang gtr Antonio Pappano pf EMI 433430-2 (6/13) Buy from Amazon Bostridge’s voice and intelligence might have been made for this music and in Xuefei Yang and Antonio Pappano he has two utterly dedicated partners. Read review…
Soloists; CBSO / Benjamin Britten Testament SBT1490 (12/13) Buy from Amazon Soloists; Gabrieli Consort & Players / Paul McCreesh Signum SIGCD340 (10/13) Buy from Amazon Soloists; St Cecilia Choir and Orchestra / Antonio Pappano Warner Classics 615448-2 (12/13) Buy from Amazon Newly released by Testament, here’s an astoundingly important historic document: a recording of the War Requiem’s premiere conducted by Britten himself. Paul McCreesh brings clarity and some superb solo singing to his version, while Sir Antonio Pappano gives us an Italian take on the work. Peter Grimes La Scala Milan / Robin Ticciati Opus Arte DVD OA1103D; Blu-ray OABD7119D (7/13) Buy from Amazon The youthful Robin Ticciati brings transparency and detail to the score, director Richard Jones focuses on Grimes the outsider and the entire cast gives a magnificent performance.
The Rape of Lucretia
Soloists; Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble / Oliver Knussen Virgin Classics 602672-2 (4/13) Buy from Amazon Shortlisted for a Gramophone Award, here’s a powerful performance conducted by another major composer. Kirchschlager and Bostridge are on terrific form.
The Turn of the Screw
Soloists; LPO / Jakub Hrůša FRA DVD FRA007; Blu-ray FRA507 (2/13) Buy from Amazon Jonathan Kent’s production is perfectly handled and he draws some outstanding performances from his cast aided by Hrůša’s sure touch in the pit. Miah Persson is near perfect and Toby Spence is a terrifyingly plausible Quint.