Britten: Double Concerto; Two Portraits; Sinfonietta; Young Apollo

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Double Concerto; Two Portraits; Sinfonietta; Young Apollo
PERFORMER: Gidon Kremer (violin), Yuri Bashmet (viola); Hallé Orchestra/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 3984 25502-2
Kent Nagano and the Hallé continue to commit to CD less celebrated portions of the Britten canon. Last year there was the four-act Billy Budd; before that the premiere recording of a concert version of the radio drama The Rescue. Now come two more firsts, recordings of the Double Concerto – prepared from Britten’s almost complete sketches by Colin Matthews and presented by Nagano at Aldeburgh in 1997 – and the Two Portraits from 1930. The second of these is a portrait of Britten himself, a surprisingly plaintive and reflective meditation for viola and strings in E minor. The image is belied by the rest of the music on the disc, which is buoyant, energetic, young man’s music all written before Britten was 26. Big guns Kremer and Bashmet are brought in for the Double Concerto and give of their impassioned best. Nagano and the Hallé are appropriately spirited and vigorous throughout the disc. It’s not mature Britten, but clearly points the way forward and is worth getting to know.

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More familiar orchestral works appear on Naxos’s latest. The violin concerto is given a rather disappointing performance by the BBC Scottish, who are allowed to drift in the first movement and never recover a sense of forward drive and purpose. Soloist Rebecca Hirsch is rather approximate at times, and the emotional final bars of the piece are distressingly wayward. The Cello Symphony is better focused with Tim Hugh more reliable, but listeners may prefer Britten’s own vision with soloists Lubotsky and Rostropovich. Christopher Wood