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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Symphonic Suites: Gloriana, Op.52a () [27:06]
(The Tournament [4:36]; The Lute Song [5:13]; The Courtly Dances: I – March [0:52]; II – Coranto [1:22]; III – Pavane [2:45]; IV – Morris Dance [1:05]; V – Galliard [2:00]; VI – Lavolta [1:25]; VII – March [0:57]; Gloriana Moritura [6:51])
Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, Op.33 [24:29]
(I – Dawn [4:00]; II – Sunday Morning [3:59]; III – Moonlight [4:26]; IV – Storm [4:25]; Passacaglia [7:38])
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.20 [20:17]
(I – Lacrymosa [8:46]; II – Dies Irae [5:23]; III – Requiem Aeternam [6:08])
London Symphony Orchestra/Steuart Bedford
Recorded in Abbey Studio 1, London, 15-17 July 1989 DDD
NAXOS 8.557196 [72.03]

This is another excellent Britten disc from Steuart Bedford and the LSO on Naxos.

The opera Gloriana was written for Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The opera is based on Lytton’s Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex, in which Queen Elizabeth is bound by duty to condemn a favourite of hers, the Earl of Essex, to death for his treasonable actions. The orchestral suite was arranged from the opera by Britten with the help of Imogen Holst. The opening movement, The Tournament depicts Essex’s jealousy of a fellow courtier - a contestant in the tournament, by the name of Lord Mountjoy. This is suitably jazzy, energetic and vivacious, with good dynamic ranges and a beautiful clarity, although I felt it could have been a little more snappy. The second movement - Lute Song (a lute song sung to the Queen by Essex) - is delightfully sensitive, graceful and elegant.

The Courtly Dances present a range of dramatic music in an "older style", which shows off both Britten’s mastery of composition and Bedford’s consummate musicianship – from the raucous rushings of the Lavolta and courtly niceties of the second March to the chilling nervousness of the Morris Dance. The final movement of the suite, Gloriana Moritura, portrays the Queen facing her own impending death, and contains gorgeously bold and dramatic, cinematic statements.

The Four Sea Interludes are scintillating depictions of the sea in all its glory – the Storm is particularly good in its very controlled opening build-up from threatening waves to a fully-blown wild and tempestuous storm. In the ensuing Passacaglia Bedford creates a good sense of menace.

The Sinfonia da Requiem opens with a stark, bleak, chilling and dramatic Lacrymosa, before a restless and brilliant Dies Irae – a "Dance of Death" as Britten called it. The work has a serene and radiantly beautiful ending in its Requiem Aeternam, expertly conveyed by Bedford and the LSO.

Em Marshall



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