Britten bridge 855720

Déjà Review: this review was first published in September 2005 and the recording is still available.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Occasional Overture (1946)
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10 (1937)
Prelude and Fugue for 18-part String Orchestra, Op.29 (1943)
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op.34 (1946)
English Chamber Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra/Steuart Bedford
rec. 1991/92, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London; Barbican Centre, London
Naxos 8.557200 [60]

Steuart Bedford opens this Britten disc from Naxos (originally released on Collins Classics) with a corker. The Occasional Overture was composed in 1946 for the opening of the BBC Third Programme. The performance here is exemplary – precise and vivacious, gloriously snappy in the snappy parts yet lyrical in the gentler sections. The London Symphony Orchestra clearly appreciate this fun work, especially the playful ending.

The Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge follows – a work written in 1937 in honour of Britten’s teacher, the outstanding British composer Frank Bridge, with a theme taken from Bridge’s Idyll Op 6 No. 2. Bedford gives another perfect performance here – sensitive yet energetic, capturing the driving rhythms extremely well. The English Chamber Orchestra give pleasingly virtuosic solos, with beautifully sheer strings and excellent intonation throughout.

It is good to hear a slightly less well-known work in the form of the Prelude and Fugue – especially given such a faultless performance! The eighteen-part fugue means an individual line for each member of the eighteen-strong orchestra. The players of the English Chamber Orchestra are therefore given a good opportunity to show off their skills, which they do with relish.

The disc concludes with the Young person’s guide to the Orchestra. Again, I couldn’t really find anything much to fault here. The work is given an aptly dignified opening, and the piece has real pizzazz. The woodwind could possibly be a little lighter – they are just slightly earth-bound in places, although the flutes in Variation A (“The flutes”) are suitably airy, dizzy, fluffy and rushing. The percussion is delightfully enthusiastic, the brass is spectacular, and the violins dance and sparkle. The individual instruments are beautifully idiosyncratic, and would appear to be enjoying their time in limelight thoroughly. I wholeheartedly recommend this disc. 

Em Marshall

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