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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Sinfonia da Requiem Op. 20 (1940) [20.08]
Peter Grimes - Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia (1945) [23.50]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)

The Perfect Fool - ballet Op. 39 (1923) [10.51]
Egdon Heath (Homage to Thomas Hardy) Op. 47 (1927) [14.40]
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
Rec. Nov-Dec 1973 Kingsway Hall, London (Sinfonia); Aug, Oct 1974, Studio 1, Abbey Road, London (Holst; Grimes). ADD
Great Recordings of the Century
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 62615 2 5 [69.48]

These late era analogue recordings are likely to be well known to many who collected LPs in the 1970s although they will not be quite as familiar as the contents of some of the other GROC series discs.

These are stereo ADD recordings. In the case of the Britten Sinfonia and the Grimes episodes the recordings derive from an LP first issued in dual compatible stereo and SQ quad. That LP was a celebrated hi-fi artefact with the clean satin openness of the LSO strings almost as impressive as the crashingly captured climaxes, growling, thunderous and metallic. Every sound is accommodated in a grand acoustic. I still have the LP. The grunt and gasp of this famous recording can be heard instantly at the start of the Sinfonia. Its subtle splendour and lively brightness is specially evident in the Dies Irae (tr. 2) which rips along, brightly catching every half-light and sounding remarkably like Malcolm Arnold! Cripes! There are some superb French horns at 1.42 in that track. They are caught in all their roughened and rollicking glory.

I still have the Britten LP - the cover of which is nostalgically reproduced on the front of the booklet. I'll wager that most people’s LPs had more play on the Grimes side than the Sinfonia. Is there anyone who does not know the Grimes Interludes now? The violins, ‘in excelsis’, in Dawn are captured in pristine magnificence. The patterning of Sunday Morning, with its stylised church bells, rings out in chilly definition contrasting with the warm hesitations of Moonlight. Storm which perhaps lumbers a mite at Previn's initial speed. This is all the better to celebrate the eye-of-the-storm peace at 2.55. This pacific interlude resolves into the thunderous descent steps that close the movement. They sound, for all the world, like the precipitous avalanche at the end of the first movement of Bax’s Sixth (compare the Lloyd-Jones, Naxos version). The Passacaglia ‘anhang’ to the Grimes Interludes has a telling symphonic-tragic gravity. This it shares with Berkeley's Nocturne (which I will keep promoting until someone - preferably Vernon Handley - records it). This reading has exceptional steely strength and concentration. In Previn's hands it also sounds somewhat like Malcolm Arnold. Finally it sinks resignedly into the silence from which it emerged.

The two Holst pieces are nicely contrasted. The dances from the Perfect Fool demonstrate Holst the showman. Egdon Heath gives us Holst the deeply serious philosopher - expounder of the grim and bitterly triumphant the quintessence of Hardy.

Previn is in harmonious sympathy with the Britten pieces but his Holst is awkward. Previn, orchestra and recording make some lovely noises but there is little sense of easy flow and natural address. Compare this with old recordings such as Sargent’s and Boult's of the Perfect Fool dances; Previn just misses the underlying beat of this music. It is not that you won't enjoy this; it is splendid but it could have been so much more. By the way it is such a pity that the complete opera, which is at least as diverting as the recently issued RVW Poisoned Kiss (Chandos), has not been recorded. Outstanding broadcasts by Groves (1972) and Handley (1995) on BBC Radio 3 confirm the work as a spirited brilliant comedy; by no means the tired deadbeat effort that some claim for it. After that we need a complete Holst Sita!

A brave decision to end the disc with morose-tragic Egdon Heath - a most understated piece in which the massed grey and black clouds make a bridge to eternity and life's comedies and tragedies - Hardy-style. Previn is much better in this than in the other piece. It has something in common with the Grimes - Passacaglia.

This well filled and 'ART' re-mastered CD carries strong supportive commentary from Achenbach.

Very fine Britten bringing back memories from the 1970s coupled with slightly less good Holst.

Rob Barnett

Great Recordings of the Century Series

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