BENJAMIN BRITTEN: String Quartets 1, 2, & 3; 3 Divertimenti — Beleca Quartet — EMI

by | Sep 1, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BENJAMIN BRITTEN:  String Quartets 1, 2, & 3; 3
Divertimenti —  Beleca Quartet — EMI 2005 7 24355 79682 0 

The three string quartets span the 35 years of Britten’s composing from
1941-1976  and represent his development from a “brilliant”
youthful composer, albeit derivative, to a fully mature composer aged
63. Britten died a week before the premier performance of the 3rd
String Quartet by the Amadeus Quartet.

The first quartet, the most classical of the three, is reminiscent of
the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge,.  This dazzling,
lyrical, tight writing is Britten “feeling his oats.”  The second
movement, andante calmo, echoes the “moonlight” interlude of Peter
Grimes”, a reflective sequence giving way to a jaunty finale requiring
virtuosic first violin playing, again harkening back to Frank Bridge.

The second quartet was composed to commemorate the 25th anniversary of
the death of  Henry Purcell. This lean, less patently lyrical
music culminates in a grand tribute, an 18 minute chaconny, a tour de
force of variations and “relationships to the C major which is the
quartet’s center”.

The 3rd quartet is Britten’s swan song, similar in tone and simplicity
to the great Opus 132 of Beethoven – no small praise for a 20th century
composer.  For Britten, this final work is the distillate of his
craft. The final movement, La Serenissima, like the preceding movement,
Burlesque, pays homage to Mahler. It is ethereal, quoting liberally
from Britten’s opera, Death In Venice.

The Belcea Quartet originated at the Royal College of Music, London, in
1994. It has been first prize winner at several international
competitions and is currently resident quartet at the Wigmore Hall.
These performances are impeccable, played with flawless intonation and
authority, rivaling the venerable recordings of the Amadeus Quartet and
the Lindsay’s (Quartet #3 only). 

The venue is Potton Hall, Suffolk.  The recording, made July 2003
by Arne Akselberg, is superb.  Excellent hall ambience,
instrumental focus and realistic dynamics contribute to this fine
performance. Enthusiastically recommended.

— Ronald Legum

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