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
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.
Recordings of the Century Series