BRITTEN Violin Concerto, Op 15. Double concerto. Lachrymae, Op 48a

String concertante works by the young Benjamin Britten

Author: 
Richard Fairman

Britten Violin Concerto, Op.15; Double concerto; Lachrymae, Op.48a

  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
  • Double Concerto for Violin and Viola
  • Lachrymae

A neat coupling brings together the three works that Britten wrote for violin and/or viola with orchestra. The most substantial is the Violin Concerto, which is at last starting to establish its place alongside other major 20th-century concertos. Anthony Marwood, most associated with the contemporary violin concertos of Thomas Adès and Sally Beamish, makes the Britten sound as modern here as anybody. This is a lithe, spiky, rhythmical performance, bristling with satire in the Shostakovich style, at speeds well ahead of Britten’s own. There is some lack of aural beauty – Marwood’s tone gets thin at the top and the orchestra’s sound is rather utilitarian – but every phrase is highly charged (Ilan Volkov has already shown himself a lively Britten interpreter in Glyndebourne’s recent A Midsummer Night’s Dream). In the closing pages, where the music lingers uncertainly between major and minor, this performance takes on quite an air of anxiety. Could this be a more telling depiction of the 1930s than the bittersweet sentiment found on the composer’s own recording decades later?

In the 18-year-old Britten’s Double Concerto, which only surfaced in 1997, Marwood and his viola colleague Lawrence Power prove to be the most outgoing soloists on disc so far. Alternatives are Kent Nagano’s premiere recording with the starry duo of Gidon Kremer and Yuri Bashmet or Vladimir Jurowski’s live LPO recording, but there is an extra spontaneity here that helps give this youthful music a welcome lift. With the rich-toned Power returning to give an eloquent performance of Lachrymae, this disc offers a trio of highly characterful performances.

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