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Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
Benjamin Britten, Steuart Bedford, London Symphony Orchestra
Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (30) - Disc #1


      
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CD Reviews

Out of the Vaults, a Super Britten Sampler
M. C. Passarella | Lawrenceville, GA | 12/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"What makes this disc especially rewarding is the program. Rather than an obvious companion piece for the "Young Person's Guide," such as one of the other famous pedagogical works written with children in mind--"Carnival of the Animals," "Peter and the Wolf,"--we have another of Britten's most celebrated compositions ("Bridge Variations") and a far less familiar one ("Prelude and Fugue"), both of which illustrate Britten's ability to give older musical forms a modern sensibility. The lightweight, populist "Occasional Overture" (1946), then, might seem an afterthought. Consider it instead the curtain raiser--which is what an overture is.

The two sets of variations invite interesting comparisons and contrasts, making it all the more puzzling they aren't frequent discmates. But only a few rival CDs offer the two works together. The "Bridge Variations," for string orchestra, may be more modestly conceived than the grand "Variations on a Theme of Purcell," but it illustrates just as well Britten's amazing resourcefulness. Many of the variations are brilliant, witty transmogrifications of the original tune, and the entire work is as much a demonstration of what orchestral strings are capable of as the "Purcell Variations" is a showcase for the modern symphony orchestra.

The "Prelude and Fugue" (1943), much more rarely heard, hints in an oblique sort of way at Britten's later friendship and admiration for Shostakovich, who also paid homage to the musical form made famous by Bach. Britten's piece is especially expansive and technically astute, but like the best of Britten, it wears its learning lightly.

This collection originally appeared on Collins Classics, and we can thank Naxos for making it available now that the former label is no more. The LSO is in fine form under the direction of Steuart Bedford, who's renowned for his advocacy of English music, especially Britten, and these performances leave me wanting to hear more, much more, from him. The recording is excellent, bordering on the demonstration class. A first-class Britten sampler made even nicer by the Naxos price."