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Hyperion Records

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Sunset over Sea by Richard E Smith (b1966)
Private Collection / © Special Photographers Archive / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67801
Recording details: January 2011
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon & Dave Rowell
Release date: February 2012
Total duration: 30 minutes 32 seconds

'[Violin Concerto] A lithe, spiky, rhythmical performance, bristling with satire in the Shostakovich style … every phrase is highly charged … [Double Concerto] Marwood and his viola colleague Lawrence Power prove to be the most outgoing soloists on disc so far … there is an extra spontaneity here that helps give this youthful music a welcome lift. With the rich-toned Power returning to give an eloquent performance of Lachrymae, this disc offers a trio of highly characterful performances' (Gramophone)

'Marwood is a vivacious soloist in the Violin Concerto and particularly compelling in its magnificent Passacaglia, which is expertly paced … we are left in no doubt about the levels of searing commitment behind Marwood's performance' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A rarity… energetic and characterful, [the Double Concerto] emerges strongly from the performance of the soloists here. But it is quite overshadowed in originality and richness by the Violin Concerto of seven years later' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This is a highly distinguished recording, very intelligently planned and exceptionally well executed … performances which it would be difficult to imagine could be improved on … [Violin Concerto] Magnificently set out for us by Anthony Marwood and Ilan Volkov … the performance [of the Double Concerto] on this disc by Marwood and Lawrence Power revelas it to be an astonishing achievement as a work of art on several levels … [Lachrymae] The finest performance I have ever heard, live or on disc' (International Record Review)

'A bittersweet, sinuously virtuosic account of a work that repays repeated listening and vindicates Britten's faith in it … a brilliantly planned, played and orchestrated release' (The Sunday Times)

'Anthony Marwood, in one of the most gripping acounts of recent times … careful pacing, agile bow-work and careful tonal manipulation … Marwood and Lawrence Power are ideally matched … and they make a convincing case for the concerto … a well-recorded disc, in which Ilan Volkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra provide bitingly visceral support throughout' (The Strad)

'Anthony Marwood makes the best possible case for [the Violin Concerto] in this new recording … has the opening Moderato's edgy lyricism ever sounded so tantalisingly seductive? Marwood goes on to capture the sinewy vitality of the middle movement and, no less brilliantly, the quixotic moods fo the closing Passacaglia, where Volkov's tensile accompaniments are spot-on' (Financial Times)

'Ilan Volkov’s BBC Scottish SO relish the first movement’s spiky, quirky invention and are a superb foil for Anthony Marwood in the central danse macabre. Britten’s masterstroke was to close the concerto with a haunting large scale Passacaglia, which resolves into a typically ambivalent manner. Marwood’s handling of the closing pages induces shivers, gently rocking between major and minor. It’s a compelling work, and this is a wonderful recording' (TheArtsDesk.com)

Violin Concerto, Op 15
composer
1938/9; revised 1950, 1958 and 1965; composed for Antonio Brosa who gave the first performance at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic under John Barbirolli in 28 March 1940; dedicated to Henry Boys

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
On 19 April 1936 Britten attended the posthumous first performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto at the International Society for Contemporary Music in Barcelona, an occasion which he found ‘shattering’. Britten was there to perform his fiendishly difficult Suite for violin and piano (Op 6) with a friend of Frank Bridge, the violinist Antonio Brosa, with whom he had already broadcast the work in the UK. Britten and Brosa kept in touch after the composer’s emigration to the USA in May 1939, by which time he had already begun to write a substantial Violin Concerto for the soloist (the composer referred to it at the time as ‘a big heavy-weight’). The concerto was completed in Quebec later that summer, and Britten prepared the piano reduction in New York (where he was to settle), continuing to work on the orchestration in September. Britten hoped a US premiere for the concerto would not only help his own reputation but also enable Brosa to gain further work in America. The composer wrote to his publisher, Ralph Hawkes, on 21 November about the work’s impending publication: ‘It seems a little risky without me having heard Toni play it to engrave it, but I have written to him, asking him to be honest and tell me what passages are ineffective and what alterations he suggests. Also I am hoping that he will finger and bow the part for the edition (“edited by Antonio Brosa”).’ Brosa travelled to New York to give the first performance, at Carnegie Hall on 28 March 1940 with the New York Philharmonic under John Barbirolli, having been detained on arrival at Ellis Island by immigration officials on suspicion of his being ‘a doubtful visitor’—presumably on account of his Spanish citizenship.

The Violin Concerto’s premiere was generally well received by both public and critics. Undoubtedly the piece represented a new depth of maturity in Britten’s music, most obviously in the extended Passacaglia finale (a form later to become one of the composer’s most characteristic and resourceful structures). In the New York Times, Olin Downes wrote: ‘Mr Britten has given us something that has a flavor of genuine novelty in the violin concerto form … The moods of the music traverse those of the poetical, the satirical and elegiac … The instrumentation, sometimes very simple, often very brilliant, is so expert that the violin is never covered when it is intended to show forth.’ As earlier in Britten’s career, however, some critics evidently enjoyed carping about his achievement, and this tendency was particularly noticeable when the work subsequently received its first UK performance, at London’s Queen’s Hall on 6 April 1941 (when the soloist Thomas Matthews was accompanied by the London Philharmonic under Basil Cameron). The Times, for example, declared on 7 April: ‘If the audience found some of the way heavy going they put a brave face on it and applauded with heartiness when it was over. Our own feeling was one of disappointment that so little is achieved from so large a display of ingenious effort.’ The Liverpool Daily Post wondered if the concerto was ‘really too clever’, but noted the ‘moments of genuine tone-poetry’. Britten later revised the work on several occasions—in 1950, 1958 and 1965—partly (and somewhat ironically) to remove what he felt had been Brosa’s excessive editing of the solo part, but also to amend the proportions of the finale. The score was dedicated to Britten’s friend Henry Boys, who had been his fellow student at the RCM; a capable pianist, Boys had (at the composer’s own suggestion) accompanied Brosa when he was rehearsing the work in the UK and demonstrating it to Barbirolli prior to travelling to America for the premiere.

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2012

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