In his ninth disc with Telarc, Maestro Jarvi continues his practice of creative programming just a bit off the standard approach. While both composers are staunchly British, this particular grouping of works is probably a first. Actually a third British composer is in evidence here: Henry Purcell, who is the composer of the main theme heard in all the different variations throughout the orchestra in The Young Person’s Guide. Britten originally wrote that for an educational 16mm film demonstrating the different sections of a symphony orchestra.
Perhaps due to both the excellent interpretation of Jarvi and his musicians and the rich hi-res surround of Telarc, the Elgar variations didn’t sound nearly as stuffily British as they usually do to my ears. It was a pleasure following the many variations on Elgar’s original theme, carried out in quite different ways from what Britten achieved in his set of variations. The Cincinnati Symphony may not be usually thought of in the company of the world’s great orchestras, but under Jarvi they have truly become one to contend with. The natural and highly immersive surround pickup of the recordings in Cincinnati’s Music Hall must surely benefit from not only from Jarvi’s previous recordings made there, but also from the even bigger series of Eric Kunzel recordings which have been so successful for Telarc.
Although I’m not strongly attracted to Britten’s music in general, his Four Sea Interludes are one of my favorite works, especially in the stirring recording led by Andre Previn on EMI/Angel. I was unable to put my hands on the LP for a comparison, but Jarvi’s version blew me away regardless, especially in the last of the four – depicting the Storm at sea. By coincidence, just before auditioning this I had viewed a short film by Jean Epstein titled “Le Tempestaire” – part of a collection of early avantgarde cinema I am reviewing. It has long shots of waves in a storm breaking against rocks – a scene which Britten’s Storm does an equally effective job of portraying. In fact, they would complement one another much better than the music on the soundtrack of the short film.
– John Sunier