BRITTEN Piano and Violin Concertos
Edward Gardner’s operatic background is proving a major selling point for Chandos’s Britten series. Each new release comes as though hotfoot from the stage and the highly dramatised performance of the Piano Concerto here thrives as a result. Gardner’s BBC Phil leads the rough-and-tumble with its sharp-edged wind and brusque brass, and the exuberant Howard Shelley matches them every inch of the way. The ‘Waltz’ – what a louche string solo at the start – turns into a rasping piece of Shostakovich-style satire. The ‘Impromptu’ plays out like a troubled 1930s drama. There is also a substantial bonus in the rarely performed original slow movement (Joanna MacGregor also has it), for which Shelley and Gardner make a strong case.
Though played with similar spirit, the Violin Concerto does not work quite so well. The performance is vividly characterised and within minutes Tasmin Little is biting into the rhythms impressively, but the elegiac quality which is such a haunting feature of this score comes across less effectively. Partly this is because the slower passages sometimes lose momentum, partly because Little has fewer emotionally warm sounds at her disposal than she does energy and commitment – she is razor-sharp, for example, in the second-movement Vivace. Recommendations inevitably start with Britten’s similar pairing with soloists Richter and Lubotsky. For the Violin Concerto, Little is comparable with the still more wiry and intense Anthony Marwood, while in the Piano Concerto Shelley and Gardner are as gripping as any – another strong Britten release from Chandos.