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Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra "Sellinger’s Round" (1953)
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra (1961-62) [11:35]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Sinfonietta Op.1 (1932) [14:46]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Sinfonietta Op.34 (1950) [12:36]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Sinfonietta No.1 Op.48 * (1955) [9:53]
English Chamber Orchestra/Norman
* London Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. March 1977, Kingsway Hall (Tippett, Rawsthorne, Britten, Berkeley); 6 September
1978, Watford Town Hall (Arnold). ADD
LYRITA SRCD257 [68:31]
start this CD come two not-just-high-jinks divertimentos.
You wouldn’t expect ‘A Lament’ within a Divertimento yet
Tippett’s has one for its second movement (tr. 2), based
on Purcell’s Dido’s first aria, ‘Ah Belinda, I am pressed
with torment’. The theme is on the violas, Purcell’s ground
bass on cellos and double basses and above this a solo violin
traces elements of Sellinger’s Round but this and the haunting
violins’ filigree work seem more like an expressive psychological
hinterland of the Purcell original. The rest of the work
arguably takes the concept of Divertimento to bullish extremes,
but the opening movement is vivid and arresting, beginning
with a vigorous adaptation for strings of the eighth of Gibbons’ 3-part
Fantasias before oboe, clarinet and bassoon offer a lusty,
outdoor treatment of Byrd’s version of Sellinger’s Round
(tr. 1 1:03) and then Gibbons and Byrd coalesce on trumpet
and strings. By the finale (tr. 5) the Round is a frivolous
flute throwaway but you can enjoy Sullivan’s ‘I have a song
to sing, O’ on clarinet (0:59) offset by zany companions.
Del Mar is sensitive and robust as appropriate.
of Rawsthorne’s Divertimento, this CD’s most open-air piece,
is also surprisingly thoughtful, but this is satisfying.
You can have your fun but realize it’s only part of the rounded
picture. So his opening breezy Rondo has a first episode
(tr. 6 0:56) which says ‘ponder awhile’ after which the rondo,
nonchalantly returning via cello solo, can be more confident
and lead to trenchant declaration. Even then it calms down,
allowing the episode to return, only to be quickly dismissed
at the close.
second movement Lullaby (tr. 7) is harmonically on the cool
side yet heartfelt. Woodwind sing over muted strings and
when the first violins take over the theme in upper register
it has a rather spectral sheen. The Jig finale (tr. 8) blazes
brilliantly, with a notable contribution from horns con
forza. Yet even here a distinctive and distinguished
contrast comes with a reflective viola solo from 1:29, especially
when latterly it goes soulfully into upper register. Again
Del Mar’s performance catches both moods vividly.
CD’s sinfoniettas also come packed with incident and contrast.
What I find striking about Britten’s Sinfonietta is its built-in
and continuing drama, of a kind not found in the other pieces
on this CD. I believe this is the first recording of the
1936 version including small string orchestra rather than
the original 1932 string quintet. At least the string texture
is much thinner in the 1995 Nash Ensemble recording (Helios
CDH 55225) of the original version. The opening working up
of a dramatic outcry works better in Del Mar’s account. But
there’s still the contrast of calm, terse lyricism (tr. 9
0:51) from clarinet, oboe and then more extended on flute.
This is likely, however, to be forgotten in the sheer adrenalin
of the closing gradual increase of tempo to an emphatic climax.
compared the whole work with what is claimed as the first
recording of the string orchestra version, made in 1998 by
the Halle Orchestra/Kent Nagano (Elatus 0927 46718 2). Here
are the comparative timings.
string texture is slightly denser but Del Mar’s is closer
miked and more analytical. The slower Nagano brings more
expressive nuance to the first movement’s lyrical material.
Del Mar is more objective but obtains more dramatic momentum
by maintaining the tempo. Nagano is more sensitive in catching
the lontano double bass (Del Mar’s is at 2:42) and
the following stealthy pp cellos and violas’ pizzicato
but Del Mar’s climax is more exciting.
second theme of the first movement (tr. 9 1:15) is the basis
of the second movement Variations. In both these small string
orchestra versions comes the contrast of a duet by two solo
violins, the first in The lark ascending stratosphere,
Del Mar’s account not as serene as Vaughan Williams but rarefied,
peaceful music. It’s shattered by raucous woodwind and full
strings but the woodwind then lead on a more optimistic and
open manner of expression, growingly passionate with a warmer
aftermath from a horn solo. Nagano’s opening has more sultry
allure and his violin soloists are sweeter but Del Mar’s,
despite his slower tempo here, have more expressive purpose
about them which gives the movement more intensity leading
from tr. 10 3:46 to a more fervent central climax. Nagano’s
becalming thereafter is pleasingly distilled where Del Mar
is cooler, even a touch elegiac.
Tarantella finale (tr. 11) has a restless, febrile brilliance,
even when confined to ever changing solo instruments because
the rhythm presses ever forward. The final section recalls
themes from all movements, notably from 3:07, but without
compromise to exhilaration. Del Mar’s performance is gripping
throughout, a fresher, more straightforwardly stimulating
romp than Nagano’s approach. This latter has raciness as
well as restlessness, rather more edge but also humour and
makes more of the central contrast of texture to wisps of
solo instruments. Del Mar is more consistently intense even
here and brings more of a galvanizing frenzy to the close.
a nonchalant start, Berkeley’s Sinfonietta soon has plenty
of bounce but keeps wanting to return to the nonchalance
especially in a gracious tail to the opening sally on clarinet,
oboe and flute (tr. 12 0:45). In Del Mar’s hands its first
movement is perky, balletic and suitably contrasted. The
beguiling second theme, starting on flutes and bassoons at
1:13, gets a rapturous response in the form of a horn solo.
Despite another energetic phase the nonchalant material gets
the lion’s share of the recapitulation and the final sound
says it all: a crisp tutti chord but lingering overhang
from the lower strings.
slow second movement could be a lullaby. The flute with a
gentle cantilena made more humane when the oboe takes over
sympathetically and is then followed by clarinet. Del Mar
perfectly catches its wonderfully controlled simplicity,
an austere melodic outline flecked with some surprises, subtly
refined in harmony and scoring. There’s an eerie transition
to a more straightforward neoclassical allegro (tr.
13 5:23) but the surprise broad melody and cantabile marking
at 7:25 is like suddenly admitting Vaughan Williams to create
a resplendent close. This is the only recording. A small
correction, Berkeley died in 1989, not 1976 as stated in
Arnold’s Sinfonietta, despite the easy flow, the strings’ opening
theme seems more reticent than the warmer oboe and horn duet
continuation. Nicholas Braithwaite brings out the shadowy
elements, a piquant contrast for the later oboe solo of the
theme to shine out and prophetic of the closing, more darkly
penetrating horn solo.
compared the 1972 recording by the Philharmonia Orchestra/Neville
Dilkes (EMI 5747802). Here are the comparative timings.
is more relaxed in the first movement with smoother phrasing.
Braithwaite has a denser strings’ texture with more troubled,
writhing episodes between the theme’s appearances. Braithwaite’s
slower tempo gives the slow movement a more beauteously sorrowing
reflection. The strings’ rustling in the central section
is more anxious than Dilkes and the viola statement of the
theme (tr. 15 1:49) more careworn. Braithwaite’s approach
is more concentrated than Dilkes. At 2:56 the heavy lower
strings aren’t masked, like Dilkes’ are, by the upper parts’ turmoil.
the finale Braithwaite brings a spiky deliberation and bracing
edge which comes from attention to the accents. This also
gives a lumbering quality to the second theme on the horns
(tr. 16 0:45). Dilkes gives us a more straightforward high-speed
sum, here’s a CD which fascinatingly challenges whether there’s
a typical English divertimento or sinfonietta in the 20th
all examples of which, within their relatively terse confines,
offer food for thought as well as fun, as do the mettlesome
performances and matchingly vivid recordings.
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