“Britten’s Orchestra” = BENJAMIN BRITTEN: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Sinfonia da requiem; Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from “Peter Grimes” - Kansas City Symphony/Michael Stern - Reference Recordings HDCD RR-120, 60:46 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
There are quite a few competing versions of these important Britten works, especially of the first and last, but the Kansas City Symphony has grown to a stature that vies with the other top U.S. orchestras. Their Reference Recording of last year, The Tempest, was well received, and this Britten collection is head and shoulders above some of the others out there.
It’s unfortunate the Young Person’s Guide isn’t in hi-res surround since it highlights the various orchestral sections so well; it was originally designed to acquaint youngsters with the component parts of the symphony. However, the Purcell main theme and its 13 variations are clearly and strikingly played, and the concluding putting together of the different sections most stimulating. Though only two-channel, the voluminous acoustics of the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence MO is captured better then that of the Music Hall where the Cincinnati Symphony recorded their version of the work for Telarc on SACD. I found that when fed thru ProLogic II processing the surround effect of the HDCD-decoded disc was excellent.
The Sinfonia da requiem is a dark and less-than-tonal work, influenced more by Stravinsky and other composers usually writing in less tonal style than Britten. The instrumental music from his opera Peter Grimes is my personal favorite music of Britten. There are three sections: Dawn, Sunday Morning, and Moonlight, then the insertion of the Passacaglia - the longest of the movements - and finally the dramatic Storm, when Peter sets out to sea to scuttle his rowboat as suggested by the townspeople, due to his being possibly responsible for the deaths of two young assistants. The programmatic scene-painting of this section is the equal of anything by any other composer. Absolutely breathtaking and an audiophile demo piece if there ever was one! The only other SACD recording is on the same Cincinnati Symphony Telarc disc, conducted by Paavo Järvi. It doesn’t quite measure up to the dramatic and exciting Kansas City Symphony version, which with ProLogic II assistance, HDCD decoding, and my Benchmark D-A processor, competes beautifully in the hi-res surround department with the SACD.
- John Sunier
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