Britten's Inimitable Talent for Setting English to Music
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 11/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With all the current interest in the great operas of Sir Benjamin Britten - 'Peter Grimes', 'Billy Budd', 'Turn of the Screw', 'Albert Herring', 'Death in Venice', 'The Rape of Lucretia', et al - it seems the orchestral works lag in performance. Other than the ubiquitous 'A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra', and the 'Four Sea Interludes', 'War Requiem', 'Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge", and the brilliant song cycles for chamber ensembles, his big works appear only occasionally. One of those important omissions is the 'Spring Symphony', Op 44 which combines all that is great about Britten's gifts and more.
Based on excerpts of English poetry from the 16th to the 20th centuries, Britten cleverly combines orchestra, large chorus, children's chorus and soloists to honor the birth of Spring from the cold sleep of winter. In this 1979 recording Andre Previn conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the St. Clement Danes School Boys' Choir in as fine a reading as the work has enjoyed on records. Soloists are Robert Tear, tenor, Sheila Armstrong, soprano, and Dame Janet Baker, mezzo. Each soloist is in the perfect range and clearly enunciates the various texts. One of the most beautiful moments comes with Janet Baker's haunting 'Out on the lawn I lie in bed' from the words of WH Auden - a poem that is not exactly about Spring but is part of Britten's long standing statement of pacifism and it works beautifully in the setting. Previn maintains the propulsion of the energy of the symphony down to its final abrupt beat!
Accompanying the 'Spring Symphony' is Previn's vivid 1976 performance of the 'Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes'. Previn allows the interludes to soar and whisper with all the atmosphere of the opera for which the music came while simultaneously allow the interludes to stand well on their own as a symphonic work. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, November 05 "
Soaring Spring Symphony
Jack D. McNamara | Walnut Creek, CA | 07/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Spring Symphony (Op. 44) bu Benjamin Britten is a strange work, but it is also very spectacular and it is performed wonderfully on this CD.
The Spring Symphony is scored for large orchestra, large chorus, children's chorus, and some strange percussion instruments that aren't usually heard in normal classical music. There are 3 parts, and 12 songs in total. Most of them are pretty, several are a little slow and dull, but No. 12 (London, to Thee I Do Present) is the greatest of them all with the grand finale, including the startling ending which is worth the wait.
I highly reccommend this disc for someone looking for the Spring Symphony, and if you've never heard it before, it's a wonderful work which I'm sure you'll like."
One of the great quirky masterpieces of modern music
Mr. Ian George Fraser | Brazil | 10/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Every composer has their own strengths and weaknesses. Without any question Benjamin Britten's strength was his setting to music of classic English texts. I say "classic" with some hesitation as few if any of the pieces that form the basis of the `Spring Symphony' are well known except to Literature students. Britten enjoyed setting a challenge to his audiences, however, and this piece of music explores the borderline between original and quirky very comprehensively. Britten's music, for me at any rate, sits rather uncomfortably between late romantic angst and the brittleness of modernity; at times very backward looking - the majority of the texts are from the 16th or 17th century - at times very modern, ie. the centerpiece, a setting of WH Auden from 1933. Britten was almost certainly a misfit. The fact that he was also a genius makes his music peculiarly fascinating. If like me you are new to Britten, I would suggest you take this piece fairly steadily. Listen carefully to the slow introduction in which the warmth of the sun is implored to banish the rigors of winter. It's very rhetorical but its insistent pulse becomes very moving and the text is one of the most original in English poetry. As I said, Britten was never one to shrink from a challenge. Go also for the central piece "Out on the Lawn I lie in bed" by WH Auden. At first this seems relaxed, self-preoccupied, even dreamy, but then the poem suddenly jerks into the awfulness of world politics ie. Hitler's Ostpolitik and Britten jams suddenly into full War Requiem mode. Some of this is not easy listening, but there is a lot of pure fun in between, particularly when he uses the boy's chorus, one of his signature marks, as in the first part of "The Driving Boy". Britten's Spring Symphony does definitely come into the odd category when you place it up against the great classics of world music. It's highly debatable for a start whether it can be considered a Symphony in any conventional sense. Its true antecedent is more likely Mahler's Lied von der Erde, but Britten's tone palette and philosophical standpoint are a major step from Mahler. I suppose a lot depends on your attitude to this undoubted queerness, whether you will really appreciate this piece or not. I find it delightful, beautifully and most unusually constructed and delightfully odd. I would have liked to have heard Boult's version, but I can't find fault with Prévin's. A plus is the superbly orchestrated Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, the first two of which are absolute masterpieces of orchestral writing. "
A decent second choice, but the first choice is brilliant
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/20/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Andre Previn made this nice recording of Britten's Spring Symphony in 1978, featuring excellent solo work, especially from tenor Robert Tear and mezzo Janet Baker (her singing of Auden's 'Out on the lawn I lie in bed' is the best thing here). Orchestra and chorus are fine, as is EMI's sound. But this CD runs up against one of Britten's most brilliant recordings, a version from 1960 that surpasses even the high standards set by this genius of a conductor. Britten communicates a sense of joy, revelry, and mystery that Previn can't touch.
In addition, Peter Pears does some of the most superb singing to be heard from him, and all the other soloists are nearly as inspired. Despite its seemingly simple subject, the Spring Symphony's 12 disparate songs and lack of easy melody make it a tough work to bring off. I'd recommend going for a truly great recording, even though this one is a very good effort."