WORKS: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Double Concerto for Violin and Viola (ed C Matthews); Les illuminations
PERFORMER: Sally Matthews (soprano), Pieter Schoeman (violin), Alexander Zemtsov (viola); London PO/Vladimir Jurowski
CATALOGUE NO: 0037
The Double Concerto was written just before the 18 year-old Britten’s official Opus 1, the Sinfonietta – technically an impressive debut, but a work some find difficult to like.
Puzzlingly, Britten left the Double Concerto complete only in short score, though with plenty of indication as to orchestration, and Colin Matthews has realised them so well that you wouldn’t guess that anyone but Britten was involved.
It’s far more than an interesting curiosity. The Double Concerto may not be as tautly constructed as the Sinfonietta, but the material is a lot more melodically appealing, and there’s rather more evidence here of the heightened imagination at work pervasively in the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge and Les illuminations – especially in the magical ambiguous ending.
Strongly shaped, impassioned and poetic, with warm, clear recorded sound, this is about as good a version as one could hope for, more convincing and involving than the debut recording on Warner.
There follows a gutsy and somewhat abrasive performance of the Bridge Variations with full orchestra strings – quite enjoyable, in parts, but not as roundly convincing as Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra strings on Warner, who manages to combine power and urgency with a more Brittenish refinement of tone.
Sally Mathews singing in Les illuminations is impressive, if a tad short on delicacy. Again though there’s a feeling that Vladimir Jurowski drives some of it a bit too hard.
With the original mono Britten-Pears version currently out of the catalogue, John Mark Ainsley on Classics for Pleasure is a good next best. Still, this disc is well worth having for the Concerto alone. Stephen Johnson