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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Complete String Quartets
String Quartet in D (1933-34) [21:13]
Simple Symphony Op. 4 [16:28]
String Quartet No.1 in D Op.25 (1941) [27:56]
String Quartet No.2 in C Op.36 (1946) [31:23]
String Quartet No.3 Op.94 (1975) [31:08]
The Britten Quartet (Peter Manning, Keith Pascoe (violins), Peter Lake (viola), Andrew Shulman (cello))
rec. October 1989-May 1990, Snape Maltings. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9168 [66.08 + 63.36]

Experience Classicsonline

This excellent bargain-price set features the complete string quartet music of Benjamin Britten - presumably meaning the complete quartets of the mature Britten, given that he had already composed six strings quartets by the age of the twelve!  

It opens with his 1931 string quartet in D - composed written while Britten was still a student at the Royal College of Music. The first (written a decade later in 1941), second (of 1945) and third quartets (1975) are also, of course, included - and these four works are all given superb performances by the Britten Quartet - full of spirit and verve. The rapport between the players is palpable; there is an excellent sense of ensemble, and the playing is incisive and clearly articulated. The recording was made, appropriately enough, in the Snape Maltings, and the good acoustics of the building result in a sound that combines warmth and reverberance with clarity - with each individual part being pleasingly audible.
The surprise inclusion on the disc is the Simple Symphony, in which the young composer revisited earlier compositions to produce a work of intense energy, vitality and craftsmanship. Britten added instructions in the score that would enable a performance of the work by string quartet rather than the usual string orchestra - and the rendition here is a tour de force. The Britten Quartet make an extraordinarily full sound - so much so that one forgets at times that they are just a quartet rather than larger forces. The final movement in particular - Frolicsome Finale - receives a bravura performance, and is taken at an electrifying pace - far faster than a string orchestra could manage - unless said orchestra had exceptional capabilities! This is an illuminating and fascinating version; which works fantastically well for string quartet.

On the whole, I was greatly impressed by this set, in which the Britten Quartet give intelligent and radiant performances, demonstrating not just their affinity and understanding of the composer whose name they bear, but also their talent and consummate skill.
Em Marshall 

Dear Mr Mullenger

I can't resist pointing out a rather misleading statement in the review of what Brilliant Classics is pleased to call Britten's "string quartets (complete)".

Em Marshall rightly treats this designation with a pinch of salt, referring to the set as "the complete string quartet music of Benjamin Britten - presumably meaning the complete quartets of the mature Britten, given that he had already composed six strings quartets by the age of twelve". However, in so doing she only muddies the waters further. While one could get away with saying that the set includes "the complete string quartets of the mature Britten", meaning all the works to which he gave the name "String Quartet", to say as she does that it includes the "complete string quartet MUSIC" of the mature composer is confusing to say the least.

Assuming by "mature" she means "adult" (given that the Quartet in D, included in the set, was written in 1931 when Britten was 18), then in order to answer to this description the set would have had to include the Alla Marcia (1933) and Three Divertimenti (1936) - works that anyone acquiring Britten's quartet music would want to have. In addition there are a number of earlier works that have been deemed worthy of at least one commercial recording (in some cases several) - the 1928 Quartet in F, the 1929 Rhapsody and the 1930 Quartettino.

As far as I'm aware no set since the Endellion Quartet's on EMI has rounded up all these early pieces. However, all except the Rhapsody are available in one or more of the recordings currently in print, and I can imagine someone coming new to Britten feeling a bit peeved if they bought this Brilliant set believing it to be complete and then discovered that it wasn't.

All best
Rob Sykes






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