Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem; Four Sea Interludes & Passacaglia from Peter Grimes; An American Overture

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Sinfonia da Requiem; Four Sea Interludes & Passacaglia from Peter Grimes; An American Overture
PERFORMER: New Zealand SO/Myer Fredman
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553107 DDD
These three works date from the period of the Second World War, the first years of which Britten and Pears spent in America before returning to England in 1942. The Sinfonia circles over the same ground the pacifist composer would explore in greater depth in the War Requiem, yet it evinces remarkable power in the almost aggressive grief of its opening movement and troubled peace of its finale. Myer Fredman evokes its post-Mahlerian connotations in an effectively balanced performance: the New Zealanders’ proficiency in the terrifying helter-skelter of the Dies irae second movement (a Brittenish Ride to the Abyss) is commendable.

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The Sea Interludes (here with the Passacaglia) are generally finely played – though there are a couple of moments where ensemble is less sharp than it should be – and recorded with skill, if not quite enough bite.

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The American Overture, written for Artur Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra in 1941, but for some reason not performed, was forgotten by the composer and then instantly withdrawn by him on its rediscovery many years later. It’s a pretty empty piece, showing his technical aplomb but none of the commitment that burns on every page of the others here. George Hall