Despite all the praise heaped on this late work by England's greatest 20th-century composer, it remains a very difficult nut to crack. The best adjective to describe it would have to be "gnarly." The music is dark, dissonant, and only elusively melodic until the transfiguring finale, when sunlight finally bursts through the clouds in the form of a lyrical trumpet tune. It takes real concentration on the listener's part, and although the experience is worth the effort, it's something you have to understand from the beginning. Walton's Concerto is easier on the ear, but also of lighter musical substance. Andrew Lloyd Webber plays both pieces with total conviction and considerable tonal beauty.
For admirers of Steuart Bedford's recordings of the music of Benjamin Britten, this re-release of his 1984 recordings of the Symphony for cello and orchestra with his arrangement of a concert suite from Death in Venice will be gratefully received. Bedford had been anointed by Peter Pears, Britten's musical executor, as a Britten interpreter and even allowed to create the concert suite. Bedford's conducting is surely more assured than Britten's in general, but his interpretations were clearly steeped in Britten's interpretations.
The new recording is entirely dedicated to British music and offers a great selection of works by famous but also lesser-known composers: recorded are works by Edward Elgar (1857-1934), Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Peter Warlock (1894-1930) and Karl Jenkins (b. 1944). The album opens with the earliest masterpiece, the famous Serenade in E minor for string orchestra by Edward Elgar, one of the greatest British composers and leading European composers of his generation. Among the hallmarks of Elgar's compositions are ingratiating character pieces that often share elements with English folk music.
Both Benjamin Britten and his teacher Frank Bridge at one point owned the Giussani viola played by Hélène Clément on this album, which features pieces the two composers wrote for the instrument. The most substantial work here, Britten’s Lachrymae, is a series of pensive variations on a theme by John Dowland and is performed evocatively by Clément. In the Elegy, also by Britten, the Giussani viola’s special eloquence is evident in its deep tonal resonance and vivid responsiveness to Clément’s pizzicatos. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly’s stirring performance of Bridge’s Three Songs is another highlight, as is the vein of aching sadness Clément finds in another of Bridge’s works, There Is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook.