The First Suite appeared to be such an exhaustive compendium of both compositional and string-playing techniques that it was something of a surprise when the composer produced a companion piece in August 1967. The Suite No 2 was given its first performance by Rostropovich at the 1968 Aldeburgh Festival, and is similar in layout to its predecessor (although lacking the recurrent Canto which had bound the earlier work together). An introductory Declamato (Largo) leads to a complex Fuga (Andante), in which Britten’s monophonic counterpoint is so ingenious that the fugue’s subject can be presented in up to three dovetailed entries without recourse to double-stopping. Next comes a Scherzo (Allegro molto) which presents two contrasting ideas and later combines them in a condensed form. A slow movement (Andante lento), exploiting a tonally ambiguous alternation between major and minor triads, leads without a break into the concluding Ciaccona (Allegro) where Britten indulges in his favourite ground-bass form with characteristic inventiveness and fluency.
from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2013