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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Candida Thompson, Britten

Sometimes our culture cultivates the pretension that we will all live forever, as long as we take the meds prescribed, eat healthy foods, exercise at the gym, etc. The fact is, we won't. So when we celebrate Benjamin Britten's 100th birthday this year, it is with the full knowledge that he no longer is with us. A great composer may not be with us physically for very long, but his or her music outlasts us all, if the music is that good.

Benjamin Britten's music sounds more timeless, more lasting to me than it did when I first started listening. The best of it transcends the period and style of its making to become itself nearly wholly. The Amsterdan Sinfonietta under Candida Thompson have put together a selection of some of his best, most well-known works for string orchestra and soloists, calling it simply Britten (Channel Classics 32213).

We get his "Les Illuminations" from 1939 with Barbara Hannigan taking the soprano role, the "Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge" (1937), the "Serenade" (1943) with James Gilchrist as the tenor and Jasper de Waal as horn soloist, and as a closer, the short, rather obscure "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal" also from 1943, again with de Waal.

These are energetic, expressive versions. The soloists are very good and the precise, matter-of-factness of Britten's original recordings contrasts with the exuberance of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta under Thompson.

These versions are different enough that someone with multiple recordings of the works will gain yet another perspective by hearing this recording, and representative enough that they will serve the dabbler into Britten's oeuvre rather well.

It is a sign of a productive interpretation that it changes how you hear a piece. These versions do that. He sounds timeless and placeless on these renditions, less English and more international, whatever that actually entails. The versions can stand side-by-side with the very best and hold their own, in their own way. Recommended.

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