The best Britten recordings of 2013

James McCarthy22nd Nov 2013
Benjamin Britten's centenary will be celebrated worldwide on November 22Benjamin Britten's centenary will be celebrated worldwide on November 22

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...

 

String Quartets

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.

 

Cello Suites

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.

 

Songs

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...

War Requiem

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. 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.

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