London Philharmonic Orchestra – Vladimir Jurowski Conducts Britten

0 of 5 stars

Double Concerto for Violin and Viola [edited by Colin Matthews]
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10
Les Illuminations, Op.18

Pieter Schoeman (violin) & Alexander Zemtsov (viola)

Sally Matthews (soprano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Double Concerto recorded on 10 December 2006 at Queen Elizabeth Hall; Frank Bridge Variations and Les Illuminations recorded at Royal Festival Hall on 23 April 2008

Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: May 2009
CD No: LPO – 0037
Duration: 71 minutes



Inspired by hearing William Walton’s Viola Concerto at the Proms in 1931, he started work on the Double Concerto in March 1932, completing the first movement in a day and the work by the beginning of May. The 18-year-old Britten was already an accomplished composer, and both the Sinfonietta and Double Concerto display writing of originality, the latter’s first movement horn-calls typically Brittenesque. The slow movement is pastoral to an extent and leads into the last movement, which is underpinned in its dance-like feeling by the timpani played with side-drum sticks. The soloists, Pieter Schoeman and Alexander Zemstov (principal violin and viola of the London Philharmonic) display natural interplay between their instruments, accompanied well by Vladimir Jurowski.

Britten first heard his orchestral music performed in 1936, with the premiere of “Our Hunting Fathers” in Norwich. Six months later Boyd Neel, who had already conducted Britten’s music for the film “Love from a Stranger”, asked him to write a piece for his eponymous orchestra which was to perform in Salzburg in August. Britten completed the work in about a month, having chosen a theme by Frank Bridge from his Idyll No.2 for string quartet (1906) and wrote a number of short variations on it. The result is possibly Britten’s first masterpiece, overflowing with youthful vitality, inventiveness and wonderful writing for strings; a loving and admiring portrait of the older composer. The London Philharmonic’s strings are on excellent form, the ensemble often breathtaking. However, Jurowski’s pauses between Variations are on the long side and could have been shortened in the editing: the piece’s impetus is interrupted.

“Les Illuminations” dates from two years later; Britten was now 23 and had begun a deep affair with Wulff Scherchen. He set a couple of Rimbaud’s poems, “Being Beauteous” and “Marine” for soprano and strings and these were performed by the dedicatee, Sophie Wyss, in April 1939. Shortly afterwards, Britten and Pears left for Canada, and then the United States, where they stayed for some time with the sympathetic and accommodating Mayers. It is about this time Britten and Pears began their long love-affair, and Britten was to complete the song cycle in October 1939. “Being Beauteous” was written for Pears, “Antique” for Scherchen and the ‘Interlude’ for Elizabeth Mayer.

The first complete performance was given in January 1940 by Wyss and the Boyd Neel Orchestra, and the first broadcast by Wyss and the BBC Orchestra (Section B) under Sir Adrian Boult. Britten and Pears made the first recording in 1941, Pears producing a second recording, with Eugene Goossens, for Decca in 1954.

An excellent essay by David Matthews, brother of Colin, accompanies this release and quotes Britten’s letters to Wyss about the significance of the poetry and performance of the music. Britten’s work has so many original touches. Sally Matthews brings over the meaning of the text with understanding and a good accent and Jurowski and the LPO are on top form. Matthews is a little too closely miked and this reduces her dynamic range from what one would experience in a concert. Generally, though, the recording quality is excellent, and this is another release from the LPO label that will give great pleasure to anyone who is looking for a collection of music by the young Benjamin Britten.

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