Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Some more music of Britten, sometimes an English "Mahler"

I gave myself another concert this afternoon (OK, a “self-date” on home turf), all Benjamin Britten.
The Piano Concerto in D, Op. 13, was originally composed in 1938, but had a slow movement replacement in 1945.  The music sounds as Viennese as English, and the last movement is a crunching march that could almost fit into a middle Mahler symphony (the Seventh).  The other movements are a Toccata, Waltz (not really very sociable) and a set of variations (in C) called “Impromptu”.  The finale, with its crunch, has been called a warning of the horrors to come.  The last four fortissimo octaves, however, remind one of Rachmaninoff’s signature endings.

The 1987 Hyperion recording is with Annette Servadei, piano, and the London Philharmonic conducted by Joseph Giunta.  It’s paired with the Khachaturian concerto.

The other CD is an Erato, with the Halle Orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano, dated 1999.  The first work is “Young Apollo” (1939), for piano (Nikolai Lugansky), string quartet, and string orchestra. The title suggests homage to a “perfect” boyfriend.  But the 7 minute work sounds a bit repetitious and rhetorical.

The main work on the CD is the Double Concerto in B Minor for violin (Gidon Kremer), viola (Yuri Bashmet), and orchestra, 21 minutes, 1932.  Although the opening theme with ascending fourths sounds martial enough, the tone of the work is much pastoral than most of Britten’s other concerti (although the Violin Concerto comes to mind), and the ending is quiet.  This work is relatively little known.

Next comes Two Portraits (1930): the first is an homage to friend David Layton, for string orchestra, and the second is an homage  to self, with viola and strings.  In these pieces, English pastoralism prevails.
The last work on the CD is the rowdy Sinfonietta, Op. 1, the version for chamber orchestra (1932).  The first movement is said to be inspired by Arnold Schoenberg’s first Chamber Symphony.  We’re back in Vienna with this music.

Here’s a 2012 mini-doc by the New York Philharmonic on the post-Mahler War Requiem. I have a Telarc with the Atlanta Symphony for this work, which I heard in Dallas in 1980.

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