Britten Piano Concerto; Violin Concerto

Author: 
Christopher Headington

Britten Piano Concerto; Violin Concerto

  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

This record tempts me to name-dropping reminiscence! I bought the original LP in July 1971 and during the following month was in the composer's Aldeburgh home and referred not only to the issue itself but also JW's Gramophone review, in which he said that in the Piano Concerto Richter and Britten together brought out a certain Russianness and that, while he thought this was a performance likely to remain unrivalled on record, he ''would dearly like to hear Britten himself in the work''. Britten said that he agreed that there was a Russian flavour to the piece, but modestly added (with his typical wry smile) that although he had been able to play the solo part when he gave the premiere and other early performances, he certainly could not do so any longer. He added with some pride that Richter had learned the concerto ''entirely off his own bat''. The playing here is first rate: a crisp, vital and persuasive account of a work which, with its rather relentless bravura and 1930s brittleness, is not in my view really among Britten's best of the period.
The Violin Concerto composed a year later in Canada appeals to me more; it has much more openness of personal feeling and a final elegiac coda of haunting beauty. But there's still no shortage of virtuoso demands, and indeed Heifetz once asked Britten over a lunch to simplify it or allow him to do so! The composer resisted but was concerned enough to ask Manoug Parikian's advice, which was to leave it as it was. There are some demanding passages of which Lubotsky makes heavy weather (listen from the 1'34'' point of the first movement, for example) and like many other players he slows down considerably and very noticeably in the central scherzo from the marked—and elsewhere played—tempo of dotted crotchet = 104 in the notorious passage beginning at the 4'35'' mark, with its scales in double artificial harmonics. But if not quite in the class of Richter's, this is still a good performance which wears well and conveys the work's powerful feeling. Good sound in both concertos, recorded in The Maltings, Snape, and an attractive buy at mid price.
The recent Hyperion issue is well worth considering if the coupling of the Khachaturian Piano Concerto suits you. Servadei and Giunta with the LPO are more spacious in the Piano Concerto (taking three minutes longer overall) and often winningly sensitive, as in the quiet final statement of the first movement's main theme and the ''Waltz'' and ''Impromptu'' that are the two middle movements, but they offer plenty of brilliance too where it is needed.'

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018