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Yesterday evening I attended Seattle Symphony's performance of Britten's 'War Requiem'. I had not heard it live since living in the UK, and it was a reminder of how deeply this music moved me as a young lad, and how shattering to experience it again in a very different venue.
Britten didn't write much for piano, though if he had concentrated on the piano, I think he would have been one of the greatest players.
Just wondering what others think about Britten.
Here is Grosvenor in an interpretation of the piano concerto which might match Richter:
Alas, no 'Young Apollo' from this talented young man. Too bad. Someday I really need to see a performance of Britten's final opera, 'Death in Venice'. If the recording is anything to go by, well IMO, it is just the beginning.
Britten has grown on me a lot. Still having trouble enjoying Gloriana (or its Choral Dances), but having sung in the chorus for War Requiem myself, I can definitely count him as one of the leading composers of the 20th century.
Perhaps not fair of me to bump up a topic which has had no traction here, but thank-you for your post, OSK.
Admittedly Britten tends to fall into the nether region of 20th century composers. For those who find Prokofiev a trial, Britten would never appeal (though I think he was as great a pianist as Prokofiev), yet on the other end of the spectrum, Britten would be hopelessly conservative -and irrelevant- to the Ferneyhough crowd.
Stravinsky couldn't understand the attention, he called it 'The Battle of Britten'. But as been amply demonstrated, our great composers were usually better at writing their music, and not wasting time commenting on the other guys.
Britten inexplicably (to him at least) had problems with Beethoven, Brahms and Elgar, Richard Strauss called Rachmaninov's music 'sentimental sewage', and good grief, Tchaikovsky had it out for Brahms and Liszt.
And now -the envelope please- I think Strauss was, ultimately, the greater composer than Rachmaninov. If Strauss had any interest in writing a major virtuoso work for piano and orchestra in his mature years -which he did not- I think he could have surpassed Rachmaninov 3, no contest. There is nothing Strauss couldn't do, didn't he come up with that awesome Italian aria in Rosenkavalier?
My favorite Britten work is his lovely A Ceremony of Carols, which I used to sing before my voice broke (just a few years ago ). I have to say that his operas aren't my thing (The 4 Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes are sufficient for me), and his War Requiem is OK once in a while. But I also like his settings of folk songs, as sung by his partner Peter Pears - so very English when they perform it together (as demonstrated by Dudley Moore in his deadly impersonation ).
His Spring Symphony is also very fresh and appealing. As for his piano music, Richter's recording of his concerto doesn't do it for me - when Grosvenor records it, it will probably be definitive. Young Apollo is an exercise in scales, isn't it?
As for R. Strauss, his Vier letzte Lieder alone would put him among the greatest of the past century - despite it being in late-Romantic idiom. Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps might as well have never existed.....
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Britten composed marvelous and often underplayed works for cello. Some were commissioned by or dedicated to Rostropovich. He was also an excellent pianist (there is great footage of him and Richter playing a Mozart sonata at the Aldeburgh festival). Here is playing his first cello sonata with Rostropovich.
Well, I read that Britten didn't think too highly of the piano as a solo instrument, or something like that - it was more of an accompanying instrument for him. Which is nice in a way, because many of his works with piano, like the song cycles or the cello sonata, have very skeleton-like piano textures. The cello sonata is very awkward here and there for the cellist, but the piano part is literally a piece of cake (last page needs some practicing). His folk-song arrangements are quite lovely.
My main Britten obsession has been the 9 Holy Sonnets of John Donne settings. Here's one (though I'm passionate to the point of annoyance about the Mark Padmore recording - with Roger Vignoles accompanying -, there's no YT clip of them):
My tangential Britten obsession is Sir Benjamin's recording of the 6 Brandenburg Concertos. Baroque practice purists may wince, but 30 years of regular and irregular listening to the set hasn't dulled my admiration of it. A small taste:
I adore Britten. Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, Turn of the Screw and Death in Venice are gems of the 20th century operatic repertoire. The War Requiem is a flat-out masterpiece. Also A Ceremony of Carols, A Young Person's Guide to the Symphony, Spring Symphony and Rejoice in the Lamb. Les Illuminations and the Serenade for Tenor, Horns and Strings are absolutely wonderful. And the Violin Concerto is quite extraordinary; it should be performed much more often.