MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2023
Approaching 60,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Double Concerto for Violin and Viola (1932) [21:40]
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10 (1937) [25:46]
Les Illuminations, Op. 18 (1939) [22:22]
Pieter Schoeman (violin); Alexander Zemtsov (viola); Sally Matthews (soprano);
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
rec. live, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, December 2006 (Double Concerto) and Royal Festival Hall, London, April 2008
LPO LIVE LPO0037 [70:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Benjamin Britten was not yet nineteen when, in the space of two months, he composed his Double Concerto. In his diary entry for 6 May 1932 we read “I am putting my Concerto away for a bit.” At that point the work was complete, though the orchestration existed only in the form of detailed sketches. In fact he never came back to it and never heard it. This version is a realisation of the score he put away, made by Colin Matthews in 1977. The opening movement begins with fanfare-like figures which are soon taken up by the soloists and which are recalled at the end of the movement. This feature, and especially the opening chords of the slow movement, over a held pedal note in the bass, are so typical of the mature composer as to be almost uncanny. This slow movement features some remarkably assured and very beautiful writing for the two soloists in duet, in music that never quite settles into anything like repose. The finale opens with repeated notes on the timpani leading to a passage of much rhythmic uncertainty. Given the age of the composer we can hardly complain if it slips for a while into noisy, conventional bombast. But then, just as you think he is working towards an exciting ending, the horn calls from the opening of the work are brought back, transformed into something much more tranquil, this magical ending the irrefutable sign that we are in the presence of an emerging genius. The performance is everything we could wish for. The two soloists, both LPO principal players, give every sign of being totally committed to the work, as does the orchestra under Jurowski. I first encountered this work played by Benjamin Schmid and Daniel Raiskin on an Arte Nova disc (74321 89826 2). There is little to choose between the performances, but readers who decide to buy the present disc are urged to investigate the other too, for its interesting programme including Double Concertos by Arthur Benjamin and Max Bruch.

When, after about a minute or so of Britten Op. 10, Frank Bridge’s theme is heard it seems insubstantial and difficult to discern, a most unpromising subject for a set of variations. In the event the theme is often difficult to pick out within the variations too, so profoundly does Britten develop it. A bewildering number of styles, so many that the work threatens to go out of control, make up this youthful masterpiece. Some of the variations charm the listener - Romance, for example - whereas others, such as Aria Italiana, move the listener by their sheer brilliance. This live performance is brilliantly played and, the strings being fairly numerous, everything is very rich and sonorous, strikingly so in the first variation, Adagio. One is struck throughout by the meticulous attention Jurowski’s pays to Britten’s multitude of dynamic and expression markings. Indeed, with one crucial exception, this must be one of the most accurate performances available. Listen how the opening of March contrives to be both pianissimo and martellato (hammered). And Wiener Walzer is, for once, loud enough, again respecting the score, closer than ever, in spirit at least, to Ravel’s La Valse. This is, then, an outstanding performance, but there are two snags. First of all, I think the engineers might have shortened the pauses between the variations, as the sound of turning pages and some little audience shuffling damages the atmosphere, grievously so between the last two variations. More serious, though, is the problem of the final variation. The first part of the fugue is stunningly played, but in the later, astonishing passage where the theme returns in long values over the chattering fugal strings, those chatterings are just too loud. The young composer’s achievement here, to combine the brilliance of his fugue with the wistful inwardness of Bridge’s theme, is seriously undermined. Nor do the long, sustained E naturals grow out of this texture gradually, as if they have always been there - which, in a way, they have. There are other performances which manage this passage better than here, that conducted by the composer himself on Decca, for example, indispensable.

Though conceived for soprano, most of Les Illuminations was composed in the early days of the composer’s relationship with Peter Pears. Rimbaud’s poems I frankly find hard going and have often wondered if Britten would have bothered with them had he encountered them later in his life. Others, though, will find more in them than I do. The young Britten clearly did, especially affected, apparently, by the line “J’ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage” (I alone hold the key to this savage parade). Whatever the poems are meant to communicate, the music is direct and wonderfully inspired. The opening fanfares are perhaps not sufficiently trumpet-like here - the score specifies this, after all - but Sally Matthews’ first entry, with the phrase above is striking and dramatic, leading one to expect the best in the remainder of the performance. This is pretty much delivered, with a superbly controlled glissando down from a top B flat at the end of Phrase, and likewise the pianissimo intonation of the “key” phrase at the end of Interlude. The most appreciative comments in my notes refer to quieter passages, though, and when the dynamic level rises to forte or above the singing can be less pleasing. In Villes, for example, there are passages marked giocoso (joyfully) which come over as strident, and the end of Royauté lacks charm - one should listen to Heather Harper’s delicious portamenti here to hear how it might be done. Only one or two odd vowels betray the fact that the singer is not French, but the text is not always audible all the same. This is a good performance of Les Illuminations, though, and one I will come back to, even if I prefer either Heather Harper or Jill Gomez, both on EMI.

Applause is retained only after Les Illuminations. Otherwise, the problems mentioned in the Variations are the only real signs that these are live recordings. The booklet contains a most readable and informative note by David Matthews.

William Hedley

see also review by Siebe Riedstra 


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.