Samuel Barber's cello concerto has long been considered the weak sister among his three concertos for solo instrument; this release may alter that perception. It was written in 1945, when he was thirty-five, a time in his life when he was still brimming with confidence about his music, not yet on the defensive against attacks received from many quarters, and not yet attempting to bring contemporary elements into his work. Some of the brouhaha was well-intentioned: Americans in the musical world naturally wanted our first internationally successful composer to represent us at our best, our newest and freshest; others decried his conservative romanticism out of personal jealousy at his wide acceptance.
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.
With the appearance of the excellent "les intouvables" collection of du Pre's EMI recordings, a codification which includes a sampling of most everything, why on earth would one opt to glance at the individual selections? The reasons are twofold: First, with the collection one may hear the works together, never fully appreciating their accomplishments individually and that in order to experience the mastery and history of the recordings one might choose to hear them separately. Second, the works as separately released also carry in addition to a complete chronolgic and historic arrangement (see e.g., the last Haydn concerto), the individual recordings coprise additional works meant to be included within their respective final format.
This set brings together for the first time Britten's complete Decca recordings as pianist and conductor in which he performs music by other composers - an astonishing variety of music that ranges from large-scale choral works by Bach and Purcell to Schumann and Elgar, as well as orchestral works by Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. Solo vocal repertory is generously represented with important works by Schubert and Schumann and early twentieth-century English song. Chamber music features Britten the pianist in partnership with two of Britten's closest collaborators: Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter.