Author Topic: Benjamin Britten  (Read 69358 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #480 on: January 21, 2020, 06:06:05 PM »
I've begun reading Neil Powell's Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music.

Excellent, Karl. The only biography I’ve read (and own) on Britten has been this one, which is quite good:



« Last Edit: January 21, 2020, 06:08:02 PM by Mirror Image »
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Offline Roasted Swan

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #481 on: January 22, 2020, 04:08:51 AM »
Partly prompted by the activity on this thread I listened to this set yesterday;



As I recall neither performance of the 2 main works was that well received.  I must admit - and I'm not much of a Gardiner fan - that I thought the Spring Symphony excellent.  Particularly the solo/choral work.  Ainsley and Hagley especially fine.  Ainsley having the suppleness and connection with the text of Pears but with a much more beautiful voice.  Also, the accuracy and attack of the professional Monteverdi Choir a major bonus.  Gardiner's performance might not "smile" as much as some but it has a joyful energy and excitement.  Philharmonia on good form too.  The Monteverdi's doing Hymn to St. Cecilia is a big bonus - great to hear this tricky work sung with such good ensemble and accuracy.

To fit onto 2 generously filled discs the downside is a break in the War Requiem barely 10 minutes in.  Again I like Rolfe-Johnson a lot - indeed Skovhus and Organosova very good too.  Here the recording distances the orchestra so the Dies Irae lacks the overwhelming power and horror of some versions.  But still good.  This 2 disc set can be found on UK Amazon for only £1.47 + p&p - which is why I bought it and I'm glad I did

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #482 on: January 22, 2020, 06:44:04 AM »
Partly prompted by the activity on this thread I listened to this set yesterday;



As I recall neither performance of the 2 main works was that well received.  I must admit - and I'm not much of a Gardiner fan - that I thought the Spring Symphony excellent.  Particularly the solo/choral work.  Ainsley and Hagley especially fine.  Ainsley having the suppleness and connection with the text of Pears but with a much more beautiful voice.  Also, the accuracy and attack of the professional Monteverdi Choir a major bonus.  Gardiner's performance might not "smile" as much as some but it has a joyful energy and excitement.  Philharmonia on good form too.  The Monteverdi's doing Hymn to St. Cecilia is a big bonus - great to hear this tricky work sung with such good ensemble and accuracy.

To fit onto 2 generously filled discs the downside is a break in the War Requiem barely 10 minutes in.  Again I like Rolfe-Johnson a lot - indeed Skovhus and Organosova very good too.  Here the recording distances the orchestra so the Dies Irae lacks the overwhelming power and horror of some versions.  But still good.  This 2 disc set can be found on UK Amazon for only £1.47 + p&p - which is why I bought it and I'm glad I did

Alison Hagley is a great soprano. I was first exposed to her through her performance of the orchestrated version of Debussy’s song cycle, Ballades de François Villon with Boulez and the Clevelanders on DG. John Mark Ainsley is a fantastic Britten tenor --- one of my favorites. His performance on the McCreesh recording of War Requiem was quite special. It’s too bad he hasn’t done more of Britten aside from a few recordings here and there (mostly in supporting roles). I don’t think much of Gardiner’s conducting unfortunately and the thought of him conducting a composer whose musical language is beyond him doesn’t exactly have me jumping for joy. It seems Gardiner has made several recordings where he’s tried to assume some kind of authority in 20th Century music (Stravinsky, Boulanger, Mahler, Elgar) and of these recordings I’ve heard like his Stravinsky, for example, just have sounded half-hearted and like he doesn’t really know how to conduct this music.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #483 on: January 22, 2020, 08:08:54 AM »
Hugely enjoying Gloriana at the moment. If there was another recording, I don’t really see how Mackerras’ outstanding conducting plus his stellar cast of vocalists could be improved upon. Too bad Britten himself never recorded this opera.

I find this particular movement especially haunting:

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/88lOk463oVo" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/88lOk463oVo</a>
« Last Edit: January 22, 2020, 08:11:53 AM by Mirror Image »
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Offline Roasted Swan

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #484 on: January 22, 2020, 10:36:02 AM »
Alison Hagley is a great soprano. I was first exposed to her through her performance of the orchestrated version of Debussy’s song cycle, Ballades de François Villon with Boulez and the Clevelanders on DG. John Mark Ainsley is a fantastic Britten tenor --- one of my favorites. His performance on the McCreesh recording of War Requiem was quite special. It’s too bad he hasn’t done more of Britten aside from a few recordings here and there (mostly in supporting roles). I don’t think much of Gardiner’s conducting unfortunately and the thought of him conducting a composer whose musical language is beyond him doesn’t exactly have me jumping for joy. It seems Gardiner has made several recordings where he’s tried to assume some kind of authority in 20th Century music (Stravinsky, Boulanger, Mahler, Elgar) and of these recordings I’ve heard like his Stravinsky, for example, just have sounded half-hearted and like he doesn’t really know how to conduct this music.

I'm no Gardiner-acolyte but I don't think he is as bad as you suggest.  I know from colleagues that have worked often for him that he is not the most "giving" or emotionally generous of conductors.  His Holst Planets is decent and his disc dedicated to Percy Grainger surprisingly good given his rather straight faced approach elsewhere.  As I say, I think the Spring Symphony here is very good.  Go on, listen to it if only for Ainsley and Hagley and the Monteverdi choir!  I don't think Gardiner himself has tried to assume any kind of authority - I find Manze's transformation from baroque violinist/specialist to "best living interpreter of RVW" [a quote from a UK Sunday paper recently] much more galling.  If a major record label comes to you and asks you to record some big repertoire how many people would really say no if they thought they had anything musically to say?  For £1.47 I'm glad I took the punt!

PS;  for all that - I didn't like his Symphonies of Psalms or Boulanger.......

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #485 on: January 22, 2020, 11:32:25 AM »
I'm no Gardiner-acolyte but I don't think he is as bad as you suggest.  I know from colleagues that have worked often for him that he is not the most "giving" or emotionally generous of conductors.  His Holst Planets is decent and his disc dedicated to Percy Grainger surprisingly good given his rather straight faced approach elsewhere.  As I say, I think the Spring Symphony here is very good.  Go on, listen to it if only for Ainsley and Hagley and the Monteverdi choir!  I don't think Gardiner himself has tried to assume any kind of authority - I find Manze's transformation from baroque violinist/specialist to "best living interpreter of RVW" [a quote from a UK Sunday paper recently] much more galling.  If a major record label comes to you and asks you to record some big repertoire how many people would really say no if they thought they had anything musically to say?  For £1.47 I'm glad I took the punt!

PS;  for all that - I didn't like his Symphonies of Psalms or Boulanger.......

Honestly, I can’t really listen to the War Requiem unless I’m onboard with all of the soloists, the conductor, orchestra, and the choir that is used. This is a work that requires total commitment from all involved. Being one of the critics of Gardiner, I don’t really see myself drawn to any of his recordings. Manze is a peculiar case, indeed, but I think he brings a bit of a different perspective to the music he conducts whether successfully or unsuccessfully. He was a violinist first and foremost, so it is interesting to get more of a that kind of point-of-view in the music than someone who hasn’t really had success as an instrumentalist. I will say that Manze surprised me with his recording of Britten’s Cello Symphony on Hyperion.
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #486 on: January 23, 2020, 07:59:52 AM »
Cross-posted from the ‘Listening’ thread -

Britten
String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94
The Britten Quartet




I continue to come back to The Britten Quartet’s performances of these incredible works because they exhibit an understanding of the music beyond the notes and, while they do have all the technique one could imagine at their disposal, they choose to interpret the music and they do so with enthusiasm and passion. I feel they really get inside this music more than any other quartet I’ve heard (although The Emperor Quartet’s survey of this music is amazing as well but in a different way). The only two recorded cycles of Britten’s SQs that I don’t know too well that I own are the Belcea Quartet on EMI and the Brodsky Quartet on Challenge Classics. I’ve heard the Belcea years ago, but I don’t really remember their performances and I don’t think I’ve even heard a note from the Brodsky set. Does anyone here have any thoughts on these two cycles?
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Offline vers la flamme

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #487 on: January 24, 2020, 05:37:28 AM »
I listened to Britten’s second SQ this morning. Amazing!! He was extremely skilled in the genre. I suspect he was up there with the Bartók, Shostakovich, Schoenberg and Bacewicz as one of the great quartet composers of the 20th C. I have the Maggini Quartet on Naxos, only volume 1 but I ordered the second volume. Excited to hear it!

As for the Britten Quartet on Brilliant that you share, @Mirror Image, I’ve not heard it, but I’m sure it’s good too. I’m totally happy with the Maggini Quartet but if I ever decide to branch out to another set, that will likely be the one.

Offline Irons

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #488 on: January 24, 2020, 07:54:14 AM »
The Amadeus SQ should not be forgotten.



They had a strong relationship with Britten and performed at Snape Maltings many times.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #489 on: January 24, 2020, 08:00:13 AM »
I listened to Britten’s second SQ this morning. Amazing!! He was extremely skilled in the genre. I suspect he was up there with the Bartók, Shostakovich, Schoenberg and Bacewicz as one of the great quartet composers of the 20th C. I have the Maggini Quartet on Naxos, only volume 1 but I ordered the second volume. Excited to hear it!

As for the Britten Quartet on Brilliant that you share, @Mirror Image, I’ve not heard it, but I’m sure it’s good too. I’m totally happy with the Maggini Quartet but if I ever decide to branch out to another set, that will likely be the one.

Interesting you mentioned Bacewicz as I don’t find her SQs to be too good or gripping in any way, but, yes, Britten is up there with Bartók, Shostakovich, Janáček, etc. One of the problems with collecting SQ cycles from any of these great composers is there’s really no cycle that can do the music complete justice as there are so many different ways they can be performed. I can’t say I have a lot of familiarity with the Maggini Quartet, but I have almost an allergic reaction to a lot of Naxos recordings and more often than not, I have found that their recordings of major repertoire (and make no mistake Britten’s SQs are major chamber repertoire, IMHO), they seem to be no better than other labels, but I have only heard the Maggini in the 3rd SQ and I thought the performances were pretty good, but not good enough to buy the recording.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #490 on: January 24, 2020, 08:06:27 AM »
The Amadeus SQ should not be forgotten.



They had a strong relationship with Britten and performed at Snape Maltings many times.

Oh, I certainly haven’t forgotten them, but the performance standards have improved greatly since this recording they made for Decca. I don’t rank them as highly as The Britten Quartet or the Emperor Quartet.
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline vers la flamme

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #491 on: January 24, 2020, 09:55:43 AM »
Interesting you mentioned Bacewicz as I don’t find her SQs to be too good or gripping in any way, but, yes, Britten is up there with Bartók, Shostakovich, Janáček, etc. One of the problems with collecting SQ cycles from any of these great composers is there’s really no cycle that can do the music complete justice as there are so many different ways they can be performed. I can’t say I have a lot of familiarity with the Maggini Quartet, but I have almost an allergic reaction to a lot of Naxos recordings and more often than not, I have found that their recordings of major repertoire (and make no mistake Britten’s SQs are major chamber repertoire, IMHO), they seem to be no better than other labels, but I have only heard the Maggini in the 3rd SQ and I thought the performances were pretty good, but not good enough to buy the recording.

Really?! You are missing out big time on the Bacewicz quartets. Give them another shot sometime. As for Naxos, they are no better or worse than any other label. Some hits, some misses. I don’t think they lag behind any other label, major repertoire or otherwise. Opinions may vary of course, but there are tons of fantastic recordings on Naxos in my book.

Offline Symphonic Addict

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #492 on: January 24, 2020, 10:29:00 AM »
I listened to Britten’s second SQ this morning. Amazing!! He was extremely skilled in the genre. I suspect he was up there with the Bartók, Shostakovich, Schoenberg and Bacewicz as one of the great quartet composers of the 20th C.

Agreed. I would put those by Hindemith too.

Offline vers la flamme

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #493 on: January 24, 2020, 11:50:41 AM »
Agreed. I would put those by Hindemith too.

I need to spend more time with those. Thinking of getting the Amar Quartet set.

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #494 on: January 24, 2020, 12:24:38 PM »
I listened to Britten’s second SQ this morning. Amazing!! He was extremely skilled in the genre. I suspect he was up there with the Bartók, Shostakovich, Schoenberg and Bacewicz as one of the great quartet composers of the 20th C. I have the Maggini Quartet on Naxos, only volume 1 but I ordered the second volume. Excited to hear it!

As for the Britten Quartet on Brilliant that you share, @Mirror Image, I’ve not heard it, but I’m sure it’s good too. I’m totally happy with the Maggini Quartet but if I ever decide to branch out to another set, that will likely be the one.

I have a high opinion of the Maggini Quartet, and the Naxos label in general.  One good thing about the Maggini is that they have recorded a lot of repertory, much of it by British composers, and their performances are very good, IMO.  Naxos has supplied a large number of excellent recordings at budget prices, and much like CPO or BIS, a lot of music which has been otherwise gone unrecorded.

Britten only wrote 3 quartets,  so I have trouble ranking him with Shostakovich, Hindemith, Bacewicz or Bartok, (or Weinberg whom you did not mention) since they all wrote a significant number of string quartets and made a huge contribution in the 20th century - which I think of as the string quartet century.  Britten's quartets are very good, but I wish he would have written more.

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #495 on: January 24, 2020, 02:41:35 PM »
I have a high opinion of the Maggini Quartet, and the Naxos label in general.  One good thing about the Maggini is that they have recorded a lot of repertory, much of it by British composers, and their performances are very good, IMO.  Naxos has supplied a large number of excellent recordings at budget prices, and much like CPO or BIS, a lot of music which has been otherwise gone unrecorded.

Britten only wrote 3 quartets,  so I have trouble ranking him with Shostakovich, Hindemith, Bacewicz or Bartok, (or Weinberg whom you did not mention) since they all wrote a significant number of string quartets and made a huge contribution in the 20th century - which I think of as the string quartet century.  Britten's quartets are very good, but I wish he would have written more.

I would object to anyone denying Arnold Schoenberg a ranking among that class despite that he only wrote 4 quartets.  But I do see what you mean, Britten may not have written enough of them to have truly made an impact in the genre. Still, the level of quality and consistency is amazing. I am seriously impressed.

The Maggini Quartet has that huge box of English quartets out on Naxos, which I am not interested in at this time (that's just too much, I'm sorry—my appreciation of 20C English music is something new, still). But I'll check for additional single discs here and there. I hear that Alwyn wrote some pretty good quartets—did the Magginis record them and do them justice? I've never heard any of his music but I've heard his quartets are a good place to start.

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #496 on: January 24, 2020, 04:20:38 PM »
I would object to anyone denying Arnold Schoenberg a ranking among that class despite that he only wrote 4 quartets.  But I do see what you mean, Britten may not have written enough of them to have truly made an impact in the genre. Still, the level of quality and consistency is amazing. I am seriously impressed.

The Maggini Quartet has that huge box of English quartets out on Naxos, which I am not interested in at this time (that's just too much, I'm sorry—my appreciation of 20C English music is something new, still). But I'll check for additional single discs here and there. I hear that Alwyn wrote some pretty good quartets—did the Magginis record them and do them justice? I've never heard any of his music but I've heard his quartets are a good place to start.

Did you not notice that I left Schoenberg off my list.   ;)    But you can buy all of the Maggini Quartet recordings as single CDs, and yes they've recorded Alwyn's 1-3.  His are very good, you should check them out.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #497 on: January 24, 2020, 08:07:37 PM »
Really?! You are missing out big time on the Bacewicz quartets. Give them another shot sometime. As for Naxos, they are no better or worse than any other label. Some hits, some misses. I don’t think they lag behind any other label, major repertoire or otherwise. Opinions may vary of course, but there are tons of fantastic recordings on Naxos in my book.

I usually turn to Naxos for repertoire that you just can’t find on any other label. In this respect, I find them useful and sometimes even ‘ahead of the curve’ so to speak, but when it comes to major repertoire, I’m afraid they simply don’t measure up. But this is my opinion and understand that not everyone shares these views.
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Offline vers la flamme

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #498 on: January 25, 2020, 07:41:44 AM »
Did you not notice that I left Schoenberg off my list.   ;)    But you can buy all of the Maggini Quartet recordings as single CDs, and yes they've recorded Alwyn's 1-3.  His are very good, you should check them out.

I did notice, and I objected to it!  ;D

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #499 on: January 25, 2020, 07:43:55 AM »
I usually turn to Naxos for repertoire that you just can’t find on any other label. In this respect, I find them useful and sometimes even ‘ahead of the curve’ so to speak, but when it comes to major repertoire, I’m afraid they simply don’t measure up. But this is my opinion and understand that not everyone shares these views.

My only point was that the musicians are far more important than the label. There are great recordings on Naxos and there are awful recordings on BIS, Decca, or DG. The inverse of course is also true. I agree that they are generally ahead of the curve on recording certain repertoire that other labels would not risk their budget on recording.