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...
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.
Signum SIGCD336 (A/13) Buy from Amazon
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
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.
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. Read review...
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. Read review...
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.