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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDH55225
Recording details: November 1995
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: May 1996
Total duration: 13 minutes 59 seconds

'A chronologically wide-ranging Britten programme performed with unerring sensitivity and much quiet insight. With first-rate sound and balance throughout, this is an excellent anthology' (Gramophone)

'A fascinating collection of neglected Britten, excellent playing from the Nash Ensemble and first-rate recording' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'The Nash Ensemble performances are brilliant and brilliantly recorded. There is a clarity and urgency to the performances that reveals much of the inner workings of Britten's music' (American Record Guide)

'Satisfaction is guaranteed' (Classic FM Magazine)

'This consistently enjoyable and stimulating disc' (Classic CD)

'A fascinating disc in which the straight line from early to late Britten is highly visible' (Fanfare, USA)

Sinfonietta, Op 1
June to July 1932

Variations  [6'21]
Tarantella  [3'45]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It was Erwin Stein who first noted the influence of Schoenberg – and in particular his first Chamber Symphony – on Britten’s three-movement Sinfonietta, written during June and July 1932 when Britten was studying composition under John Ireland at the Royal College of Music, London. The hostility of the College towards the radically new ideas of the Second Viennese School was a determining factor in preventing Britten from studying with Berg in 1934. Such music did not interest most of the leading teachers at the College – Ireland and Vaughan Williams among them; but it fascinated Britten’s first composition teacher and principal guiding mentor, Frank Bridge, whose later works bear a remarkable resemblance to mainstream atonal compositions and who surely encouraged his pupil to explore wider horizons.

The Sinfonietta is a remarkably assured example of Britten’s earlier compositions. The instrumentation belies at once his skill in crafting notes which sound as if they were always intended for that particular instrument; there is never any sense of this music feeling ‘scored’ from some kind of piano reduction. The opening bars unfold five interrelated motifs which provide the basis of the material to be heard in all three movements. The intervallic shapes delineated by these motivic units are played out against an important major-seventh pedal point (B flat–A) which itself relates back to the motifs. Schoenberg’s influence can be detected in the way the melodic and harmonic parameters cross-refer.

The sonata form of the first movement yields to an unusual set of variations, marked andante, in the second movement. Their growth from a rather loose organization of the motivic elements, through some impressive development to a moving climax and a recapitulation, is not what one might expect. The term ‘variations’ can be seen to apply to Britten’s persistent reappraisal of the original material. The finale employs once again the intervallic structure of the original motivic set heard at the beginning of the Poco presto ed agitato. Britten’s choice of the Tarantella foreshadows his later ‘dances of death’ in such works as Our Hunting Fathers (1936) or Sinfonia da Requiem (1940).

from notes by Philip Reed © 1996

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